Volunteers at the Egyptian Academy have been “madly running around Surrey” to find a new rental space after they say the Surrey school district cancelled their rental agreement on short notice.
The Egyptian Academy for Arabic and Islamic Studies, a non-profit organization, has been in operation since 1985, but has been renting in Surrey for about the last decade. The school had been running out of Coyote Creek Elementary in Fleetwood on Sundays.
“We’ve had a very difficult time finding a permanent location,” said Shereen Ginena, an assitant supervisor with the academy, adding they’re at the mercy of the school district “whether they want to renew or not renew.”
She says they were given notice late last week that their rental agreement with the district had been axed and they let parents know the district had “unilaterally decided to end our contract for unforeseen circumstances that they have not disclosed to us.”
Class on Feb. 27 was ultimately cancelled.
Ginena said the district emailed the notice on Feb. 23, but it was not initially sent to specific supervisors the academy had directed the district to email. She said the specific supervisors received the email the following day.
However, a statement from Surrey school district spokesperson Ritinder Matthew says the district has been communicating with the academy on its rental agreement “as far back as July 2021.”
While unable to speak to specific agreements due to confidentiality, the district said “if a community organization is not adhering to the rental agreement, we document site concerns and share these with the renter and identify options to remedy the situation.
“If the renter is unable to remedy, we take additional steps, either terminating the rental license or identifying a different site that would better meet the needs of the renter… We have been in regular contact with the organization you mentioned about their contract requirements dating back years and including specific conversations about the future of their rental license.
Fatma Taha has been a volunteer with the non-profit Egyptian Academy for Arabic and Islamic Studies for 17 years.
Taha said previously there had been “some complaints — and these are minor complaints — about moving desks from its place and not returning it back.” But, she said, the school district informed the academy and it had made “very, very, very sound efforts to remedy all this.”
Taha added teachers would even take photos of “every corner of the school” before students entered and then used those pictures to make sure everything was back where it belonged at the end of the school day.
However, the school district says the rental agreement with the Egyptian Academy is “being modified, and the renter will be relocating to a different site within our district. They are aware of this change and we are working together on the transition.”
But Ginena said when the academy received notice last week, there was no mention of a new space.
Since then, she said they have been “madly running around Surrey” to find a new space – and they hopefully have found one. But the potential new Surrey location, which Ginena said isn’t an ideal space for a school setting, is “well beyond our financial means since we are a non-profit.”
But continuity of service is “paramount,” she said.
“Every week that we lose, there’s a higher possibility of parents not coming back and kids not coming back. But if anything goes wrong and we’re not able to finalize a contract, then we will have to cancel another week of classes.”
Ginena said due to the COVID-19 pandemic there have been several “interruptions” and a lot of students are getting discounts or financial help to continue their studies.
“Whatever the community at large has been facing with COVID is the same for us, for our school community — maybe even exacerbated,” she explained. “They are marginalized individuals, they are individuals that have language barriers, that have cultural barriers, that have societal barriers, there’s inequalities.”
Taha said the majority of students are from Surrey, and prior to the pandemic there were about 250 students from the area enrolled.
“In addition, several families they don’t drive. They take the bus to bring kids in because they are either new refugees or low-income.”
Meantime, Ginena said if the academy does end up renting from the Surrey school district again, they want to work with the board to study the policies and regulations for renters.
“When you try and manage a service like ours, with all of these rules and regulations, some of them are called for and understandable, but some of them are completely uncalled for,” said Ginena, adding there were no rentals on Halloween which fell on a Sunday in 2021.
“When we don’t have any alternatives besides the school board, we have to blindly sign the agreement.”