The federal government may have opened up the opportunity to offer remote learning options for students in the Central Okanagan School District this fall.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $2 billion in funding for provinces to enhance safety precautions at schools with students returning to class amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moyra Baxter, chair of the Central Okanagan Board of Education, said B.C.’s share of that money would be about $245 million, which is allotted based on student population would mean about $9 million in additional funding for the school district.
Baxter said since the province already provided funding earlier this summer for instituting public safety protocols in schools, Baxter believes additional funding could serve to enhance the remote learning option, which was offered in June but was not planned for the 2020-21 school year.
“If the school district gets this new funding and is allowed to spend it as we see fit, then it could provide funding to hire more teachers to offer a remote learning option,” Baxter reasoned.
She noted Education Minister Rob Fleming appears to have opened the door slightly for reviving the remote learning option as parents raise concerns about the safety of their kids returning to class and teachers advocate for smaller class sizes.
Leading the push for remote learning has been the Surrey Parents District Advisory Council, saying a flexible hybrid model option would allow students to transition easily back to the classroom when they and their families feel it is safe.
All this has left Central Okanagan School District administrative officials scrambling to establish safety protocols for students returning to class on Sept. 10.
“We have never encountered anything like this for a September school opening before. Our staff have been working around the clock to prepare for the return of students,” Baxter said.
Due to demand for attendance that exceeds the ability to conduct these sessions under provincial health and safety guidelines compiled with the significant demand for an online public information session and the new funding revealed by the federal government forced the cancellation of the planned parent meetings this week.
Instead, the school board will hold a special meeting Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m., to address questions submitted by parents.
Baxter said she understands that parents are worried about the safety of their children, and she has heard an earful, not always expressed in a pleasant manner, about how the situation is being handled.
“It’s OK to be anxious about all this. Nobody with any sense would not feel anxious,” she said.
She reiterated the school district is strictly following the safety mandates set up by the provincial government and Interior Health Authority to meet the approval of kids returning to school.
“We have already spent all the money we need to on cleaning supplies and that sort of thing. If remote learning is going to be offered, we need the flexibility to get this money and use it to hire more teachers to offer remote learning,” she said.
“If the answer is no, then I am not sure how much more we can do with remote learning at this point without hiring more teachers. One thing we know is with kids coming back to school, we know teachers can’t teach classes and at the same time provide remote learning classes.”
Baxter said school districts have long offered alternative learning options for students, but lately, those options are being confused with the concept of remote learning.
Homeschooling, distance learning and hospital homebound program funding are provided for parents, where students stay connected to the school system but don’t or can’t because of health or isolation reasons attend class.
“With remote learning, there is a connection to the teacher which was what happened in April through June, but that program is not being offered at this point. That connection is not there because teachers are back to teaching classes, ” she said.
At the Sept. 2 school board meeting, there will be a presentation that summarizes the school restart plan and the staff and student safety plan for the district.
The presentation will address frequently asked questions and comments submitted by local residents. The meeting will have an opportunity for the community to submit questions during the meeting that have not been addressed.
Please submit your questions or comments that you would like addressed at the meeting here online to https://www.surveymonkey.ca/r/2BFHFRV. The submission deadline is Sunday, Aug. 30.
The meeting can be accessed online on Wednesday at https://sd23.zoom.us/j/64639779317.