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School District 57 imposes enrolment limits on more Prince George-area schools

District reduces French immersion Kindergarten spaces available at College Heights Elementary School
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On Tuesday the School District 57 board of education approved additional restrictions on school enrolment for the Prince George area.

When Kindergarten registration for the 2022-23 school year opens on Feb. 1, parents in Prince George will have fewer choices about where to send their children.

For the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, enrolment at Edgewood, Glenview, Hart Highlands, Harwin, Heritage, Ron Brent, Southridge and Springwood elementary schools were restricted to students living in their catchment areas only. On Tuesday, the district board of education voted to expand that list to include Beaverly, College Heights, Malaspina and Vanway elementary schools as well.

“In this district… parents have been lucky, we’ve had a choice,” trustee Ron Polillo said. “Now we’re being challenged. Some of the choices will be restricted next year, and in years to come. We have a growing vibrant city – and that is a great thing – but it has challenges.”

In addition to the catchment area restrictions, there will be half as many French immersion Kindergarten spaces available at College Heights Elementary School for the 2022-23 school year than in the past two school years. Only 20 Kindergarten French immersion spaces will be available, down from 40 over the previous two years.

Ecole Lac des Bois and Polaris Montessori Elementary will be restricted at 60 and 40 new Kindergarten students, respectively. Those limits remain the same as in the previous two school years.

The board lifted a restriction limiting Spruceland Traditional Elementary to only 40 new Kindergarten students, which had been in place the past two years.

Acting district superintendent Cindy Heitman said if more Kindergarten students are registered for programs than there are spaces available, a lottery system will be used to determine who gets in. The lottery will be held on Feb. 8 at 4 p.m.

Ensuring that schools have enough capacity for the students who live in the catchment area is a top priority, she added.

“It’s very hard to have the conversation with a family that move in across from a school, but their child can’t attend (there),” Heitman said.

College Heights Secondary School and Duchess Park Secondary School’s regular program are both also restricted to students in their catchment areas. Those restrictions remain unchanged from the previous two school years.

The restrictions were based on the recommendations in a Jan. 19 report by the Expanded Committee of the Whole Catchment and Capacity Review Rightsholder and Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

The committee raised concerns about school capacity for many of the schools in College Heights. DP Todd Secondary School is already operating with six portable classrooms, and the district is lobbying the provincial government for funding for a planned expansion to the school to increase the capacity from 650 students to 900.

Prince George Secondary School is also operating at near-capacity, and new residential developments could put a strain on some schools in the Hart area, the report said.

District secretary-treasurer Darleen Patterson, who chaired the committee, said caps on Kindergarten enrolment are in place to ensure choice-based programs like French immersion and Montessori education don’t outgrow the capacity of their schools. The reduction of French immersion spots in College Heights was necessary to ensure the school can meet the expected, catchment-based enrolment in the school’s regular education stream.

In addition to imposing new school restrictions on Tuesday, the board approved the creation of a Long Range Facility Use Committee and a Language Planning Committee to look at the district’s longer-term needs to meet the demand for both regular and French immersion education.

“There needs to be a long-range plan that takes a deeper dive,” district chairperson Sharel Warrington said. “I just drove down Ferry (Avenue) and was just shocked when I saw the huge apartment being built in an already-dense neighbourhood. It’s a huge challenge to ensure we have space (for students).”