Nanaimo’s Greg Keller walks with sons Dustin, 5, and Colby, 10, near their current school, Rutherford Elementary, which will close this June. They have been assigned to go to Frank J. Ney Elementary, but Keller doesn’t trust his sons’ safety to walk the Hammond Bay route, which he estimates would take them more than an hour. TAMARA CUNNINGHAM/News Bulletin

Parents question school catchment boundaries

Catchment boundary alignments can’t please everyone, school district says

Nanaimo students Colby and Dustin Keller live minutes away from a school they can’t go to.

The elementary students live on the edge of a new catchment boundary on Brickyard Road, which means that while they’re 600 metres away from one school, they’ll have to travel more than three kilometres to another.

Catchment boundaries, which determine where students learn, have changed with the planned closure of Rutherford Elementary in June. Students have been assigned new schools, including McGirr, Randerson Ridge and Frank J. Ney, but several parents have expressed concern about walking distance and safety.

Nanaimo school district, however, has warned that going to a different school out-of-catchment or an academy might not be accommodated for its students like it has in the past because of growing enrolment, class size and composition.

Greg Keller, whose sons Colby and Dustin will go to Frank J. Ney with the closure of Rutherford, has previously been denied out-of-catchment enrolment at McGirr but will try again.

“My oldest has enjoyed independence walking to school ever since kindergarten… We don’t want to have to start driving the kids every day to school,” he said, later adding he wouldn’t trust his children’s safety on the route to Frank J. Ney and estimates it would take them more than an hour. Neither can his sons be bused because they are within the district walk limits.

On Keller’s street there are other homes assigned to McGirr.

“You talk to the principal and the administrator actually and they’ll tell me, well, McGirr is full so you can’t go there and I’ll say well, what if I sold my house and bought the one on the opposite side of the street, could we go there and the answer is yes,” said Keller, who wants to ask the school board for an catchment boundary amendment to include both sides of his street and to speak about the catchment policy, but says he’s been denied.

Rutherford parent Nicole Good has tried for two years to get an out-of-catchment placement at McGirr for her Grade 1 daughter, who’s slated to go to Frank J. Ney. On Jean Paul Place, she said residents are closer to McGirr than Rutherford.

“I don’t know when they did the line and how they came up with it. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to it,” she said.

Her hope is her daughter will be able to walk to school, but the route to Frank J. Ney she believes would take 50 minutes or more and is busy.

“I mean 7:30 in the morning now, when she would probably have to leave for school, it’s pitch black outside. That’s unreasonable to expect even a 10-year-old, I think, to walk that distance to and from school,” said Good.

K’reen Kerr, parent, said there are very few from the Rutherford community who can allow their kids to walk to school anymore because of safety and distance and that it’s going to put more cars on the road.

Tim Davie, Nanaimo school district assistant superintendent, said the district knows how many students it can accommodate at each site and then determines where lines are drawn based on addresses. He also said the district is aware of concerns from Rutherford parents and has received probably less than a handful of formal complaints.

“A lot of the families understand and acknowledge where their child is to be attending school and really the concerns that we have are those that are associated on the boundary lines,” he said. “In speaking with one or two parents, it’s unfortunate they happen to be right on the edge of the boundary line, but if we put it in to the next house over then you might have concern from another family.”

The district is currently working on a safe walk program with the city, and around active transportation and awareness with PacificSport Vancouver Island.

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