• Stephanie O’Hanley

Rezoning only option Lester B. Pearson officials tell angry Zone 57 parents

Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon disputes board’s claims

PHOTO BY STEPHANIE O'HANLEY

Parents listen attentively as Lester B. Pearson School Board officials and commissioners explain Vaudreuil-Dorion rezoning decision.

More than 200 frustrated parents gathered for two hours on Wednesday, January 13, in the gymnasium at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School (PETES) in Vaudreuil-Dorion to meet with Lester B. Pearson School Board officials about a recent zoning change. The rezoning means in the next school year PETES students living in Zone 57 will no longer be zoned for PETES but for Mount Pleasant Elementary School in Hudson instead.

“Our community has been greatly impacted by the decision to rezone our population,” said Marisa Calogero, governing board chair at PETES. “In an effort to aid those families affected by the rezoning, the governing board is asking that the school board permit the current families who are being rezoned to be accepted as out-of-zone transfers for the 2016-2017 school year,” Calogero said.

On a personal note, she added, “Parents here have chosen to build their houses where they have because they were close to the school. We, as a community in which the Zone 57 is a major part of, do not see this major school change as being part of the families’ well-being.”

“When we collectively received the news that our area is to be rezoned from PETES to Mount Pleasant, it came as a real shock,” said Lorina Walker, whose online petition against the rezoning had, at press time, garnered 1,115 signatures. “I speak for all of us here tonight that we were sincerely dumbfounded. At no time over the past year were we told either by our governing board or by Lester B.,” said Walker, who presented board officials a proposal she’d emailed to the board’s chair, Suanne Stein Day. Stein Day was absent because she was attending a school closure meeting at Riverview Elementary in Verdun.

LBPSB Assistant Director General Carol Heffernan said the rezoning was done to prevent overcrowding at PETES. “Our concern is our government statistics show there will be another 150 families moving into this area over the next four-to-five years,” Heffernan said. “At the current time your school is overcrowded. If we were to move all the students out of Zone 57 we’re projecting about 316 students being in the school next year.”

Echoed LBPSB Director of Community Services Mario Barrette, “The purpose of relocating 57 is so the school could have a capacity of below 100 percent ...to have a quality of school life, what we can do in every other school is that - not at 105, (or) 110 percent capacity.”

Heffernan said Zone 57 parents could apply to Mount Pleasant and then request a transfer to PETES “but there is no guarantee” since the school won’t know how many school-age children will have moved into the school’s zone or will move in. “We’ll only know that during the registration process.”

PHOTO BY STEPHANIE O'HANLEY

Tom Rhymes (left), Lester B. Pearson Senior Director, Educational Services and Mario Barrette, Director, Community Services look on as Carol Heffernan (right), Lester B. Pearson's Assistant Director General, answers questions.

She suggested parents who work on the West Island or on Highway 40 consider registering their children at Margaret Manson Elementary in Kirkland, a French immersion school that’s not full that has students from Vaudreuil-Dorion.

“We’ve been in the gym 30 minutes so far,” said parent Chris Lassonde. “With the changes that are coming to the school that’s the amount of time I’ll be able to spend with my kids,” he said, noting commuting half an hour to Mount Pleasant and another hour to work limits his time with his children.” That’s not a life for a kid, said Lassonde. I will now have 30 minutes a day to spend with my son and daughter, that’s including homework.”

Kal Patel, who grew up in Dollard des Ormeaux attending Lakeshore School Board schools from kindergarten through high school, lamented that his children won’t share his experience of living near school and friends, something he expected in Vaudreuil-Dorion. “My kids, twin boys, when they start kindergarten are going to spend more time on the bus and in school than I spend at work,” said Patel. “How am I supposed to get them home and still have the concentration to do homework?”

Jo-Ann Wilkins, another Zone 57 parent, said her family lives just a few hundred metres away. “I ride the bike to school with my son. You are taking this privilege away from our family. It is incredible we are going to have to endure a very long commute by bus while we live right across the overpass (at Château Vaudreuil).

Wilkins said she and “a lot of other parents” are considering sending their children to the French board. “That’s the only option that’s left to them. I would like to know your feeling about that,” she asked school board officials.

“It would be sad to lose you to go to the French school board,” Heffernan replied. “I can only speak to the quality of programs at our school boards. We’re always the first, second or third in the province as far as the results of the students. It’s your choice though; you have to do what’s best. We hope you’ll stay. We understand as far as the distance goes we can’t disagree with you there.”

Heffernan promised parents a special direct bus service so that Zone 57 children attending Mount Pleasant could be picked up and dropped off at the daycare service at PETES or at home if they usually go home after school.

“I moved to Zone 57 a year and a half ago so they could be zoned for PETES and now I’m looking at moving because there’s no other option,” said Zone 57 parent Sandra Petosa.

“There are things we can control and there are things which we cannot control,” Tom Rhymes, Lester B. Pearson’s Senior Director, Educational services, told parents. “We can control zoning and transportation of students we cannot control development in Vaudreuil.”

During the meeting Heffernan documented the board’s efforts to resolve the overcrowding problem at PETES including failed efforts to obtain land for a second school from Vaudreuil-Dorion, the school’s structure cannot handle a third floor, and said the City of Vaudreuil-Dorion wants the school’s two portables gone. As well, building an extension on the site of the portables will not work because the gym is not large enough for a bigger student population and government rules require that schools within a 20-km radius be full before a new school may be built.

Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon disputes claims

In the days following the January 13 meeting, Vaudreuil-Dorion Mayor Guy Pilon contacted media outlets to say the Lester B. Pearson School Board had not contacted anyone at the town before opting to rezone the students. In a communiqué issued January 18, Pilon said, “I learned about this situation in the media and because of the parents who contacted me. The school board has never contacted the Town of Vaudreuil-Dorion to extend the agreement authorizing the presence of temporary premises at the school.” The communiqué goes on to say that the agreement has been in place since 2003, one year after construction on PETES was completed, when two modular units were requested to accommodate the student population whose numbers exceeded the building’s capacity. A total of five extension requests were filed by the school board and all were accepted by the city. “Our goal has always been to accommodate our residents whose children attend this school, "said Pilon.

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