Who's responsible? Speaking with VSB parents about the fentanyl and homelessness crisis

 Crosstown Elementary School Photo: Vancouver Courier

Crosstown Elementary School
Photo: Vancouver Courier

Parents are asking who is responsible for ensuring schools relying on facilities owned by multiple jurisdictions live up to parent expectations, and you are right to demand an answer.

Parents expect consistent and equitable quality

Crosstown Elementary has been at the centre of conflict due to rampant drug use, longstanding neglect of mental health issues, and unaddressed homelessness in Vancouver. Strathcona Elementary parents have also been asking for help with homelessness, mental health, and addiction related issues for years.

Crosstown Elementary opened in 2017 in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood on the edge of the long-troubled and the highly diverse downtown-east-side. This September, Crosstown neighbours held a meeting to air concerns to officials,. One of the top complaints I heard repeatedly at this community meeting event from participants was that the answers they received from school board, parks board, police, and city officials did not include any actual solutions. They complained officials were simply passing the buck, and I agree. Public services are there to address public needs, and the public is uninterested which department within public service has any specific task.

You expect more.

I recently stopped by Crosstown Elementary School to have an important chat with some parents with children enrolled in the school. I had the chance to speak with Valerie and Jordan about the concerns parents have been voicing.

When you enroll your children into a school, you expect that all schools will assure a level of inclusion and safety., and that everyone involved in providing your child’s education experience is going to live up to the expectation. You expect every school to meet or exceed Ministry of Education standards, as you should.

In Vancouver schools, these standards are embodied in a number of policies and you expect the agreement you have with the school district and the province to be lived up to: Our kids will attend safe and inclusive schools, and that this includes the school grounds and the activities in which your children participate.

Opioid and homelessness crisis response

 Temporary modular housing such as this are welcome, but we need many more units to truly address homelessness. Photo: City of Vancouver

Temporary modular housing such as this are welcome, but we need many more units to truly address homelessness.
Photo: City of Vancouver

Our city is facing an opioid and homelessness crisis on a scale we've never seen before, and this puts a very real strain on our institutions and city departments. I'm encouraged to know that our provincial government is taking decisive steps to address this - including creating a ministry of mental health and addiction and building hundreds of modular supportive housing units in Vancouver. I’m further encouraged to see temporary modular housing being built in our city and look forward to when we have enough to truly claim we are doing our best to address homelessness through emergency housing to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness.

However some of this work takes time and our kids need to be safe today, without exception. Our schools have a role to play in helping address this crisis. Schools can help with prevention . Schools can help staff and students deal with the trauma of witnessing an overdose or of losing a loved one to one. Schools can even help prevent overdose deaths through Narcan training.

It is encouraging to see our provincial and municipal homelessness and addiction response is making headway undoing decades of government inaction and our province now benefits from a Ministry of Mental Health and Addiction to help with this crisis.

Meanwhile, you leave your children in the care of schools with an expectations that they are safe and welcome no matter what school they attend. You expect that the school grounds and the surroundings are adequately maintained and your children are not at risk when attending school. When this expectation is not met, you expect your school administration to resolve identified concerns immediately and effectively.

You do not expect to hear that in new Vancouver schools, some of the playground is on park land. You do not expect your child to have to travel to the next school to access a safe soccer field when there is one adjacent to your school, as is the situation at Crosstown. You don’t expect school staff to pass the buck to city staff who pass the buck to parks or Coastal Health staff, or even Police when there are people using intravenous drugs on your child’s school playground.

 A Vancouver poster advertising the risk of Fentanyl Photo: Vancouver Sun

A Vancouver poster advertising the risk of Fentanyl
Photo: Vancouver Sun

Parents have little concern for excuses about details such as whose land their school is using when our children are outside. Whoever is responsible for assuring the maintenance of any of the grounds and keeping them safe for children needs to live up to the standards of care set out by the Ministry of Education. If our City's parks are maintained to a lower standard of quality than our schools are, then city parks used by schools for basic education need to be maintained to a higher level than they are today.

If some schools rely on Vancouver parks like Creekside or Elsie Roy do, the maintenance decisions about these facilities is a conversation between the Vancouver Board of Education, the Vancouver Parks Board, and the Ministry of Education. It is all their responsibility to live up to the policies and guidelines that already exist. Parents expect city and school services to blend seamlessly, free of excuses.

Parents rightfully expect that your children are safe when they are in schools and that no matter what school are children go to in Vancouver self-destructive Behavior, out of control anger, and drug paraphernalia are not prominently features of the environment our children navigate daily when they are at school. It’s true we are facing a fentanyl crisis and the people under the grip of addiction are sick. There is no excuse for allowing this terrible reality to seep into our schools.

fentanyl-death-toll.jpg

A conversation needs to be held about the Fentanly crisis, and if I'm elected as trustee, I will ensure that this conversation happens.

I will support initiatives prioritizing spending inside the classroom. I'll advocate for safe and inclusive neighbourhood schools so learners can receive an excellent, equitable education. I’ll work to ensure city, park, school, and police work together seamlessly to keep all our children safe in our complex urban environment in every school.

I elected to the Vancouver School Board I will work closely with city council and parks board to ensure every child enrolled in a Vancouver school is learning in a safe and inclusive environment. I pledge to work to ensure all our facilities are used effectively and are made available to our communities to support your needs.

Vancouver schools do not operate in a vacuum, and the education VSB provides must not be delivered in a silo.

You expect more.

Morgane Oger