WHALLEY - Parents of students at Surrey Traditional School are crying false advertising after their school began operating split classes last week, despite being told it wouldn't.
According to parents who protested outside of the district's offices Thursday morning, Surrey Traditional has long been described as a school that offers no split division classes as well as modest class sizes with no more than 20 students per class. They say the school has operated as such for years, a claim they feel is backed up by the district's own description of the school as posted online and in newsletters sent home with kids.
However, when two teachers were cut earlier this month after the first week of school and two split classes formed, parents are wondering why the district seems to suddenly be changing their stance.
The language in question read: "At our school there are no 'split', 'blended' or 'combined' divisions. There are two classes per intermediate grades (4 - 7). Our kindergarten and grade one and three levels currently have three classes and all our primary grade levels will be expanded to three classes in coming years and be capped at a maximum of 20 students in each class."
"This is the only traditional school that has these standards," said parent Stephanie Campbell. "We were not informed of this change, it came up suddenly and it is against our school's policy. This was on our registration form when we signed our kids up for this school."
But district spokesperson Doug Strachan said the notices claiming the school would run small classes and no splits was a mistake, and that the language actually contradicts district policy.
"I am aware that there was information posted on the website that wasn't consistent with district guidelines and policy," he said. "We have always had combined classes as an option for all schools and it goes back many years. The information posted was by somebody who was misinformed or did not verify what they were posting."
The description proclaiming no split classes and a 20-student class limit has since been removed from the district’s website. Previously it was left up with a disclaimer, to acknowledge that the district had made a mistake.
“We want to be clear that we understand that information was posted in error and (we left) it there with a qualifier to show we understand where this confusion comes from and we’re not just trying to yank it down and pretend it wasn’t there,” said Strachan.
Strachan also said that the district would not be able to change the school's policy, as all Surrey schools are subject to the same guidelines and showing preferential treatment to one school would not be possible.
As for Surrey Traditional and the reduction of teachers that led to the split classes, Strachan said that was due to not enough students enrolled in each grade to warrant a full class each - a reason parents aren't buying.
"You can talk about what a split class is, how this decision was brought up, but the point is, this is what we took into consideration before registering our kids and that was a fact, and now you're taking that away,” said PAC member Jenyne Dorfer.
Some parents, such as Yogi Bhatia, have made sacrifices to ensure their children could attend a school they thought would be offering smaller classes and no splits.
"My daughter was in a split class in Vancouver and was having a lot of difficulty, so my family came to Surrey, I bought a house here just because of this school," he said. "I was excited for my children to no longer be in a split class and I moved my whole family from Vancouver to here just to get a spot in this traditional school. We bought a house at a premium just for that.
"We made our sacrifices, and we had all the details saying it would not have split classes and now this."
Lisa Garner, president of the school's PAC said they were finally able to meet with district president Mike McKay following Thursday's protest, and she was hopeful the district would reverse the changes made earlier in the month.
"They're going to find out if they are in fact liable for what was posted on their website," said Garner. "I don't know if I'm optimistic anything is going to change today, but who knows? You have to be a little optimistic otherwise you might as well not bother. So right now we have active communication."
Garner also wanted to know how this "misinformation" was circulated for so long without anyone at the district taking notice.
"We wondered then, who is responsible for managing the people?" she said, noting that the district isn't sure who posted it. "Is anybody managing them? It's been on the website for years, so are you going to honour what we registered our children for?"
The issue is set to be addressed at the next school board meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19.
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