Parents and guardians who are concerned about sending their kids back into a busy school environment this September are now being offered a flexible return option in the Gulf Islands School District.
The BC Ministry of Education has set Sept. 8 as the date for teachers and other staff to return and designated Sept. 10 and 11 as orientation days for students to get used to new COVID safety protocols and routines. While most students in the province were supposed to be in their classrooms the following Monday, Education Minister Rob Fleming announced Wednesday that districts would be authorized to offer flexible and remote learning options for families who have health issues or other concerns about the increased risk of disease transmission in school facilities.
School District 64 has responded quickly with a plan that will allow students in all grades a little more time to adjust if need be. The Remote Learning Flexible Return will provide temporary access to remote learning in core subjects and aims for students’ eventual return to school. They will have the opportunity to resume learning in the classroom on specific dates that coincide with the high school’s new quarterly timetable: Nov. 18, Feb. 4 or April 27.
“This is an ability for families to find comfort while working with their local schools,” said district superintendent Scott Benwell. “It is to support learners that are on a different timeline, that are feeling with some anxieties, to stay connected with 64 and stay connected to the home classroom in the sense that we will hold a space there until you’re ready to return on one of these points.”
District administrators emphasize the flexible remote option will not be like the full program of online courses that might be available at a distributed learning centre in another district, like the South Island Distance Education School based in Saanich.
“It’s not everything that you would normally see in a classroom because that’s not sustainable or stable; it’s making sure there is a place [for students]. It’s a mechanism to support graduated re-entry and to keep the important things still being connected to, but it’s not a full program,” said district secretary-treasurer Jesse Guy.
The option also won’t resemble the hybrid classrooms at the end of the last school year, in which teachers were back in their classrooms and but also had to facilitate learning for the students who chose to stay at home.
“Teachers were clear in June that doing both in-class instruction and remote learning was not feasible for them,” Benwell said. “So we won’t be connecting homeroom teachers with flexible returning students, as much as it might be what some people wish for a more seamless transition back. That ask for teachers is just extraordinary.”
While students will remain registered at their regular neighbourhood schools, instruction for the remote option will therefore be coordinated through Phoenix Elementary School or the Phoenix Place high school program. Learning will comprise a combination of real-time instruction, pre-recorded videos, printed materials and online resources. All students will spend several hours per week on independent study. Parents will work with schools to develop learning plans.
Core programming for grades K-8 covers most subjects although not French language classes or electives such as music. The remote option for Grade 9 includes core subjects science, math, English, social studies and physical education. Students in grades 10 to 12 are to connect with Gulf Islands Secondary School principal Lyall Ruelhen as it might not be possible to meet all graduation requirements with a staggered return.
Parents who would like to take up the Remote Learning Flexible Return are asked to contact their school principals to discuss and to obtain up the access form. The deadline for requesting access is Friday, Sept. 4.
The district warns the option may not be suitable for all learners and could require significant participation from parents. An internet connection and a computer or tablet are required. Technology access/support can be provided by the district.
Sd64’s operational plan for safe a return to in-class learning and use of facilities such as water taxis and school buses can be found on the district’s website.
There is also a little known requirement under Ministry policy for schools to provide loans of resources to homeschool students.
“The school principal must offer the following to the homeschooled child or the parents free of charge:
– evaluation and assessment services to determine the child’s educational progress in relation to students of similar age and ability and
– the loan of educational resource materials that are authorized and recommended by the Minister, and which, in the board’s opinion, are sufficient to enable the child to pursue his/her educational program.”
It would be useful to know whether SD64 intends to refuse registration in 2021/22 for families who opt for homeschooling now.