Students are picked up at the end of the school day from Golden Horn Elementary School in Whitehorse on Oct. 18. The school has been using storage room closets as classrooms, says the school council in letters obtained by the News . (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Storage and boiler room closets are being used as learning spaces at Golden Horn Elementary School

School council letters illustrate lack of space

Letters obtained by the News show the extent to which Golden Horn Elementary School has a space deficiency – that storage closets have been used as classrooms.

It appears the Department of Education has known about the problem for about one year.

Two letters from December 2017 and February 2018, sent by school council and signed by Kirsten Hogan, the chairperson, say that unsuitable spaces have been converted into working areas.

On Oct. 18, Hogan told the News that the school remains in a situation that’s “very similar” to the one during the time of correspondence with the department.

“There’s no more room for creative use of space,” she said, noting that the circumstances the school is grappling with now are expected to bleed into next school year unless something gives.

The school is at 98 per cent capacity, according to enrolment numbers provided by cabinet spokesperson Janine Workman.

After question period, on Oct. 17, Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee confirmed, rather indirectly, that she had seen the letters in question.

“I don’t have them with me, so I can’t tell you. I’m assuming that I’ve received them and I’m assuming that we’ve, of course, responded. We respond to every letter we receive. I see every letter that comes to me and everything that I sign,” she said.

During question period, Yukon Party House Leader Scott Kent inquired whether the department will remediate the problem by providing two portables for the next school year.

McPhee did not address the question, specifically. Instead, she used her time to applaud the “reasonable” questions the school council brought forward and said that there’s a will to work collaboratively to remedy the problem.

Kent then asked if the department will put out a new tender for portables by Dec. 31, 2018.

McPhee responded by saying: “(We) have met most recently with the Golden Horn Elementary School Council, and it would not be responsible for me at this point to say what we’re going to do with the issues that have presented themselves at Golden Horn, because the school council has written and said that they want to help work on that situation. They have done so well in advance of their concerns for the fall of 2019, and I will definitely take them up on that offer.”

Council is requesting that the department put out a tender by Dec. 31, 2018 to expedite the delivery of portables to the school, Hogan told the News.

“The reason for us putting a timeline on that is that, if for some reason more classroom space is not available, we feel that people in the community need to plan for that,” she said.

“We have received responses from the minister and the department of education and as a council we are actively working with them to try to solve the problem,” Hogan added.

The government put out a tender in August, but no companies responded to it – either local companies, or companies located in western Canada.

Hogan confirmed that the letters obtained by the News are legitimate.

On Dec. 4, 2017, council wrote that the school had converted a computer lab and two storage closets into classrooms, which are “not optimal for learning.”

This same letter confirms that one option to preserve space is to turn catchment area students away.

“We are vehemently opposed to this approach, as it goes against our mandate as a community school,” council wrote.

One portable was requested.

Last week, the News published a story about a single mother whose three children have been on a Golden Horn waitlist for about six months. As a result, one child is being homeschooled, while the remaining two are bussed to Riverdale to attend Christ the King Elementary School. The family lives in Mary Lake.

The education department responded to the council’s letter on Dec. 8, stating that a request for a portable is “being considered as part of the 2018/2019 capital budget planning process.”

It notes that final decisions had not been made.

The second letter from the school council, dated Feb. 2, says that two kindergarten students were denied; two Grade 1 students were placed on the waiting list. All were within the catchment area.

“Staff, administration and school council have all worked hard to bring this need to the attention of the Department of Education and have consistently identified the need for at least one portable classroom since 2014,” the letter says.

“We are utilizing all available space, including using a boiler room closet as the Reading Recovery room. Teaching is also happening in the supply room and a former storage room. This is not an environment that is conducive to learning for our students, nor is it an acceptable working environment for staff.”

Council, in that same letter, had, ideally, requested three portables for the 2018/2019 school year, which would have accommodated all catchment area students, “provide space for additional learning supports, and allow a dedicated space for French and Yukon First Nation instruction.”

Without the portables, families would have to resort to sending students to Whitehorse for schooling, an “unacceptable” circumstance, it says.

On Mar. 13, the department responded, saying that $400,000 had been allocated in the budget for one portable at Golden Horn.

“Adding one portable classroom should provide space to meet the school’s needs next year,” it says. “In the event the installation timeline is extended into the fall, the Superintendent will work with the school to prepare a contingency plan to accommodate students at the start of the year.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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