Madeleine Brown

EMS teachers sound warning over dual-bell schedule

Letter to parents group says the move to a staggered start has not resolved congestion problems at South Surrey school.

The year-old flex schedule at Earl Marriott Secondary has failed to fix overcrowding problems at the South Surrey school, teachers say.

And the situation, notes a letter to the school’s Parent Advisory Council, could put students at risk.

“With over 500 extra students, many staff at Earl Marriott Secondary believe the safety of students may be compromised in the event of a real emergency,” writes Mark Figueira, who sent the letter last month on behalf of a staff committee.

But while school officials agree there are challenges, they disagree with the suggestion the situation is endangering students.

Principal Peter Johnston said the situation would be even worse without the flex schedule.

It was implemented at EMS last year, when the school day was extended to five blocks from four. Junior grades attend in the first four blocks – from 8 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. – and most seniors in the final four, from 9:24 a.m. to 3:34 p.m.

According to Figueira’s letter, there are several problems associated with trying to educate 1,950 students in a space designed for 1,500 that have not been addressed by the new schedule.

The volume of students moving in the halls during class-change is “overwhelming,” he writes.

As well, it is  “virtually impossible” for janitorial staff to keep the school clean; there is not enough lab, home-ec, phys-ed or library space; and, if a student becomes ill, there is no bed for them to lie down while they wait for a ride home because the former first-aid room was converted into a handicapped washroom.

Student learning is compromised and the sense of community amongst students and staff has also been lost, Figueira writes.

Relief is still years away.

The provincial government approved the purchase of land last year for a new secondary school in Grandview to reduce the congestion at Earl Marriott. The site was acquired in the summer, and school district officials estimate it will be another four years before a new school opens.

Figueira told Peace Arch News the concern is that if the student population continues to grow at its current rate of 50 students per year, the school will reach a “tipping point” that will force a move to split shifts – where half the students attend in the morning and half in the afternoon and there is no overlap.

District spokesperson Doug Strachan said there is no plan to adopt a split shift at Earl Marriott. He said the flex schedule has succeeded in reducing some of the pressure on school resources.

“It’s not ideal (but) there is nothing short of a new school to address it,” Strachan said. “There has been considerable lobbying for funding for a new school and that has been successful.”

An emailed statement from the ministry of education notes the district’s capital plan ranks construction of the facility fourth, behind the new Clayton North Secondary school and additions at Adams Road Elementary and Rosemary Heights Elementary.

Parent Stacey MacDonald, who has two children attending Earl Marriott who require separate trips to accommodate start times, wants EMS made a high priority.

“We can’t wait three to five years,” the South Surrey resident said, noting the system to approve a school is too cumbersome.

She questioned the rule that there must be enough students to fill a school before one is built, something that prevents planning ahead.

“The process is just crazy.”

MacDonald, a member of the Earl Marriott PAC and the Ad Hoc Committee for Surrey Schools praised the staff committee for going public with their concerns, calling the letter “extremely moving.”

 

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