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'Devastated and disappointed': Vancouver students protest to save their 'mini' school

A group of Vancouver students and parents are fighting to save their community-led small-setting program from being transferred and integrated into a mainstream high school.
Students from Ideal Mini School feel unheard by the Vancouver School Board. Photo: grade 9 students of Ideal Mini School.

Last week, students and parents of Ideal Mini School were informed by Vancouver School Board (VSB) staff that the small-setting program would be relocated from its building at 855 W 59th Ave and integrated into the main building of Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School five blocks away.

At capacity, Ideal Mini School has 120 kids and Churchill has approximately 2,000, which Ideal students worry will affect the community-driven nature of their program.

Rachel Magarinos-Torres, a parent of an Ideal Mini School student, believes that children need small settings to do their best and flourish. "It's important for the VSB to have different kinds of settings for different kinds of students," she tells V.I.A.

However, if the move must take place, she believes there is a way to do it properly. To that end, Magarinos-Torres wants to prepare students for the change but claims the VSB is "refusing to listen to the students."

Grade 11 student Leo Robinson says they are "very devastated and disappointed” by the decision to relocate the mini school.

The move is being made by the VSB with "very little forethought and planning," says Robinson. "This building is an integral part of what Ideal is and they say they'll try to integrate it, keep our values as best as they can up at Churchill, but it's not going to be the same.”

Robinson explains that part of the appeal of the mini school is that everyone shares the same hallways and there's lots of interaction between people of different grades and different classes. “It forms a very tight-knit community where everybody knows everybody else. And up at Churchill, with a school of 2,000 students it’s going to be very hard to keep that,” he says.

Why is the school being forced to move?

Ideal Mini School is “accommodated,” according to the VSB, in a six-classroom building on the Sir Wilfred Laurier Elementary School site and there currently is not enough space on-site to serve the catchment's enrollment demand.

According to the VSB, there are 37 Laurier catchment students who have been placed at nearby schools and 20 kindergarten applicants for the 2023-2024 school year who would have been waitlisted and placed at other schools.

In an emailed statement, the VSB tells V.I.A. that the move is necessary to make room for in-catchment students and that Churchill has enough space to accommodate all the current students enrolled in the Ideal Mini program.

“Ideal Mini is a District choice program and does not have a local catchment,” reads the statement. “The District conducts reviews of the location of its choice programs, taking into account the enrollment needs of the catchment areas. As a result, the locations of these programs may be subject to change based on the needs of the catchment areas. The relocation of a District choice program is an operational matter that does not require Board approval.”

'The kids feel like they're being told that the money is more important than their well-being'

“We disagree,” says Jennifer Uegama, president of the Ideal Mini School Parental Advisory Council (PAC) and mother to two students, who believes that the transfer is a budgetary and policy decision therefore it needs to appear before the trustees. "They are starting to announce the closures of annexes all over the city. That's all related. Labelling it an 'operational issue' doesn't mean that they get to do whatever they want,” she adds.

Uegama questions the VSB’s decision to rent out the Laurier Annex at Ash and 66th to the Francophone School Board, a lease she says is up in June, if they need the space for in-catchment Laurier students. 

“The VSB clearly wants the rental income from the Laurier Annex,” she says. “They're crunching the numbers and the kids feel like they're being told that the money is more important than their well-being.”

The VSB disputes this claim and instead says that the Laurier Annex "is too far for Laurier elementary students to be unified as one school." Similarly, since Ideal Mini students in grades 10 through 12 attend Churchill for some classes, it is also too far away from the secondary school to move Ideal into that space.

Ideal Mini School wants to fight for its building

Churchill reportedly administers the Ideal mini program and is the official school on transcript record for Ideal students. They also have access to Churchill’s facilities such as the library and gym, and its administrative and counsellor support. “Students also participate in Churchill clubs, sports teams and student council,” says the VSB, making it a natural fit for Ideal’s new home.

However, students and parents of Ideal Mini School have also expressed frustration over the last-minute notice and lack of consultation on the part of the VSB.

On Monday night (April 17), the PAC held an emergency meeting that was attended by over 200 stakeholders including school trustee Suzie Mah, Vancouver-Langara MLA Michael Lee, and House of Commons representative Taleeb Noormohamed, but no members of the VSB and Churchill Secondary administration, despite them being invited.

“The Ideal teachers were told 20 minutes before the families were told that this program was being relocated,” says Uegama. “The Churchill administration, I think, must have known about the decision but did not tell anybody about the decision. So it's been sprung on everyone, the teachers as much as anyone.”

According to Uegama, the VSB still has not spoken to parents about the decision but on Wednesday, students were given half an hour notice that members of the VSB would be coming to Ideal Mini School to answer any questions that the students may have.

“The feedback I've gotten from the students is that a lot of them did not feel listened to,” says Uegama. “They were very upset that the staff considered this to be a consultation, when in fact, they've been told that the decision has already been finalized.”

Robinson agrees that while they were able to ask questions, he doesn’t feel they received meaningful responses. 

“I don't feel that much has been taken into consideration,” he says. “They've just said they'll try their best to keep our values and keep the school community as similar as possible. But I don't think their best is good enough. It's not going to be the same up in a big school.”

A meeting is scheduled between VSB and the parents of Ideal Mini School

Parents are determined to be heard and will be meeting with the VSB Thursday night in a meeting that is closed to the public and then again at a public delegation on Wednesday, April 26. 

“We really feel like the school board is not following its own rules about consulting, openness, transparency, inclusivity,” says Uegama. “None of that has happened here.”

With additional reporting from Brendan Kergin