Parents upset as Abbotsford students unable to attend neighbourhood school

Parents upset as Abbotsford students unable to attend neighbourhood school

New enrolment procedures make it nearly impossible to transfer from tradition school to Abbotsford Middle

A group of Abbotsford parents say their children are “emotionally and psychologically shaken” after learning they’re not enrolled at the school they planned to attend this fall.

The current Grade 5 South Poplar Traditional Elementary students planning to transfer to Abbotsford Middle next school year will likely have to attend Abbotsford Traditional Middle instead, due to new district rules meant to ease overcrowding at Abbotsford Middle.

Most parents learned of the rule change when they received an email from the district on April 21, according to Hardy Gill, whose son is among the students now slated to attend Abbotsford Traditional Middle in the fall.

“It’s just like these new rules have been slid in,” Gill told The News.

The district procedures prioritize current Abbotsford Middle students, followed by their siblings, students accepted to the school before June 2016 and their siblings. The school then accepts students transferring from its seven elementary feeder schools (Barrowtown, Upper Sumas, Jackson, Alexander, Godson, Dormick Park and Centennial Park). Following those students, Abbotsford Middle then enrols students currently attending schools that feed W. J. Mouat, Yale and Bateman secondary schools.

After all those students have been accepted, the school will then begin accepting applicants from district program schools in the catchment area, including traditional schools.

Although most South Poplar families live in Abbotsford Middle’s geographical catchment, the district procedure assumes they plan to stay in the traditional school track and gives them priority space at Abbotsford Traditional Middle.

But parents did not know this would be the case when they first enrolled at South Poplar, Gill said.

Gill addressed members of Abbotsford’s board of education as a delegation Tuesday, on behalf of approximately 45 South Poplar parents in attendance.

“The timing of this notice seems to us to be unreasonable and unacceptable,” he said. “Families plan many months in advance, if not years, for their educational logistics.”

According to Gill, a “close-knit group of neighbourhood kids” is being broken up by the rule changes, which have left many children crying and anxious.

The changes will also create a logistic headache for many parents, Gill said. Many families already have students attending Abbotsford Senior Secondary, which shares a campus with Abbotsford Middle. They will be forced to make an extra trip to Abbotsford Traditional Middle five km away.

Gill said some parents had even bought homes based on their proximity to Abbotsford Middle, assuming their child would one day go there.

Becky Szmutko said she will have to arrange transportation for three children attending three different school campuses this fall.The Abbotsford Middle and Senior Secondary campus is accessible by public bus from her home, but Abbotsford Traditional Middle is not, she said.

“For most of us ATMS isn’t even an option, wasn’t an option and now they’re telling us we have to go there,” Szmutko said.

Abbotsford Middle is the only district school with an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program and, unlike, Abbotsford Traditional Middle, has a soccer academy.

It’s crucial to keep children busy with extracurricular activities to keep them “on the straight and narrow,” Gill said.

Fellow South Poplar parent Joey Buttar said he signed his son up for the soccer academy was told he had a 99 per cent chance of getting in this fall. But last month he learned that wasn’t going to happen.

Gill urged the board to make rule changes that would give South Poplar students higher priority to enroll at Abbotsford Middle.

“The transition to middle school is already a milestone and a time of change in these children’s lives,” he said. “It is supposed to be a smooth transition into the next phase of a student’s educational journey.”

Board chair Shirley Wilson told The News she felt the parents raised valid points but said there’s nothing that can be done to help them.

The district has been working for a year and a half to ease crowding, particularly at Abbotsford Middle, which was projected in March to have 731 students enrolled this fall – 51 more than its capacity.

“We have wrestled with this, we have lost sleep over this, as seven individuals [board trustees],” Wilson said. “This has been one of the most difficult things that I have gone through in my entire [12 year] tenure as a trustee because we don’t want any students not to have their needs met – that is just not our goal.”

Wilson said she wasn’t surprised to see the delegation because no matter what rules the board decided to set, it was inevitable one group would end up upset.

She said the group was respectful and polite despite being understandably upset.

 

Hardy Gill addresses the Abbotsford board of education at a meeting on Tuesday.                                Kelvin Gawley/Abbotsford News

Hardy Gill addresses the Abbotsford board of education at a meeting on Tuesday. Kelvin Gawley/Abbotsford News