Another Surrey school forced to turn away in-catchment students

A line of portable classrooms is pictured at Surrey's Goldstone Park Elementary in August 2023.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A line of portable classrooms is pictured at Surrey's Goldstone Park Elementary in August 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Surrey's public schools crisis has reached a new low, according to officials, as a second elementary school — Latimer Road — has joined Bayridge Elementary in shutting down in-catchment enrolment as the district struggles with an influx of new students.

A third school, Grandview Heights Secondary, recently reopened enrolment to students living in-catchment after changing to an expanded day schedule to open up new class space.

"Our schools are just so overcrowded," said Surrey school board chair Laurie Larsen. "These three schools ... there's just no more room to put portables on. The capacity [demand] exceeds the room that we have, and that is true of so many schools."

Larsen predicts more schools will be forced to turn away in-catchment students in the near future.

"This is just the start of it," she said.

Since Sept. 30, 2023, the district has added 1,563 students, according toSurrey school board officials. That's on top of the 3,089 new students who came into the district between Sept. 2022 and Sept. 2023.

9,000 students in 360 portables

Surrey public schools have been bursting at the seams for years with provincial, city and school officials across party lines seemingly incapable of planning for population growth.

Close to 9,000 Surrey students are currently housed in 360 portable classrooms, according to district parent advisory committee president Anne Whitmore. Put another way, Whitmore said it's the equivalent of 18 elementary schools worth of students stuck in portables.

"We are in an education crisis," she said. "This situation is getting worse year by year and it's compounding. There's a feeling that children in the Surrey education system [are] just getting pushed down the road."

Families turned away from Latimer Road Elementary are being redirected to Hillcrest Elementary or Katzie Elementary, both about a 30-minute walk away. That means families with younger children will likely have to drive, said Whitmore.

Latimer Road parent Kelly Dee said he was lucky to get his two children into the school. But he wonders why, with all the new housing going up in the area, there isn't related planning for new school spaces.

"I hear about parents stressing out because they've got their [before and after school] daycare lined up after being on a waitlist for two years. And now they're worried if they're going to get into the school," he said.

Larsen said Surrey schools have reached a tipping point everyone knew was coming.

"We have been lobbying the MLAs, the MPs — anybody who will listen to us — for years," said Larsen. "Last year we asked for nine new schools, 16 additions and 10 site acquisitions. We received news two weeks ago we are getting one new school and one new addition."

B.C. Education Minister Rachna Singh said "unprecedented" growth in Surrey has taken officials by surprise.

"We know the pressure is there," said Singh. "We are dealing with a [schools] deficit left by the previous government."

Prefab classrooms over portables

Singh said a new option of adding modular, prefabricated classrooms to existing schools has marked a shift away from bringing in even more portables.

"The timeline to build those [prefab] classrooms is much shorter than building the traditional classrooms," said Singh. "They have the heating and cooling requirements that any classroom has, and they can be added to the school like any other addition. They are not separate from the school like the portables."

According to Singh, planning is underway to open up 5,000 new school seats in Surrey "in the coming years."

"I will be ensuring — especially having conversations with Surrey school district — that no child has to leave Surrey school district because they are not able to access schools there ... but also that education level is not compromised," she said.