02/24/2015 21:00 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

What are the rules of using public school playgrounds?

Questions are being raised over the use of school playgrounds during school hours by children who don't attend the school. 

The issue came to a head after a heated exchange between several upset parents and the principal of a private North Vancouver school.

The parents were on the school playground at 4:30 p.m. PT, before school was out for the day at the Cousteau International French School.

The North Vancouver School District, which leases the school grounds to the private school, said the principal was within his rights to ask the parents to leave and the playground is considered private property until classes end. 

But the parents say their children should have access to the playgrounds at all times — and not just outside school hours.

The argument over that particular private school playground looks set to continue, but who exactly can use public school playgrounds and when are they allowed to do so?

Families are welcome in Vancouver playgrounds

In Vancouver, school board trustee Patti Bacchus says parents and children are welcome to use public school playgrounds during school hours.

"The biggest complaint I hear is off-leash dogs but certainly not young children playing on playgrounds. That's generally something that we are happy to see," she told CBC News.

"We have the potential for real conflict when we take what were public spaces that belonged to their communities and put them into private spaces and then start chasing people away."

She added that people need to show common sense and be reasonable.

"If there is an opportunity to share that equipment with the community, I think it would go a long way as a gesture of good will," she says.

Surrey, North Vancouver playground access limited

Meanwhile, Doug Strachan with the Surrey School District says its policy is clear cut — public school playgrounds are open to public use only after school is out.

"The safety of our students is what comes first. That's what I think parents would prefer."

In North Vancouver, the situation is a bit more murky. 

People can access the city's public school playgrounds while classes are running, so long as classes are not disrupted. 

"A scenario where children are playing on equipment just outside a class window where students are in session may pose as a distraction," said Victoria Miles, communications manager for the North Vancouver School District. 

"Organized play groups meeting on a playground when a class goes outside to use the same space at the same time may also be problematic.

"For this reason, we ask for the understanding and cooperation of the community while school is in session, those hours being defined as 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m."