Restricted Vancouver playground access sparks angry exchange between school principal, parent

Restricted Vancouver playground access sparks angry exchange between school principal, parent

A dispute over neighbourhood children being denied access to a private school playground in North Vancouver has sparked an angry exchange between one parent and the school principal that ended up on YouTube.

Anne Fisher is outraged that the private school, which leased the former public school in 2010 including the playground which the community had fundraised to build, won't let other children from the neighbourhood on the grounds during the day.

But the principal of the school said there are signs at the entrances saying the playground is closed during school hours and he did nothing wrong by asking mothers with children to leave the grounds.

Fischer and another mother took their children to the playground at Cousteau French International School of Vancouver on Monday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. PT.

She said they were approached by a security guard, who called the school principal when they refused to leave.

Fischer said she refused to leave again when asked by the principal, Gérard Martinez, started yelling and that's when the other mother began recording the interaction with her cellphone camera.

"There is security issues. I have children from my school," the principal can be heard saying in the video.

"Security issues? From children playing at the playground I raised money for? That I raised money for?" responds Fisher.

In the video, the principal said only students from the school are allowed on the playground until after 5 p.m.

Martinez told CBC News he wants to have good relations with the community, but said there are liability issues in having non-students on the property.

The private school also hired a security guard in January following the terrorist attacks in Paris. Cousteau is one of 480 schools around the world that fall under French Ministry of Education jurisdiction, and they have all stepped up security since the attacks.

Principal defends actions

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Martinez said the school's signs clearly say the playground is closed to the public during school hours, which run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT.

"If other [children] are playing with them, it is a question of liability and responsibility ... I just want the mother and children to follow the regulations," he said.

He denies he was responsible for the heated nature of the confrontation.

"The security guard asked two times for the mother to leave. She refused, she was yelling at her," he said.

Martinez said he did call the police after the incident and was told he has the right to ask people to leave the school grounds.

"Police tell me that it is my right as head of the school to make the regulations, and the regulation is that it is private until five o'clock," he said.

The North Vancouver School District, which has leased out the building for 10 years, said the school has the right to deny access to the property until 5:30 p.m., but the original agreement allowed for some flexibility. It said community members were supposed to consult with the school's administration about gaining access and it hopes both sides will work it out.

"The school district recognizes there is always a balance to be maintained between community use and the operation of an educational facility in a neighbourhood location," said Victoria Miles, a communications manager for the school board.

It added that parents or community members who wanted access to the school's playgrounds earlier than 5:30 p.m. need to deal directly with the private school's administration.

Community efforts

Fischer told CBC News she believes that's not right because the playground was built with money raised by the local Parent Advisory Committee when the school was part of the North Vancouver School District.

When the school was closed in 2010, the land was leased to the privately run International French School of Vancouver.

Fisher takes issue with the ban during school hours.

"This is a school playground that the PAC committee from Fromme Elementary school raised the funds for, planned, and implemented," she told CBC News.

"And to take away a community space and turn it into a private school where the local kids are not allowed to use the playground is just completely unacceptable," she said.

Poll: Should a private school be able to ban neighbourhood children from its playground?