Plan to let Vancouver students learn from home a good start, but not enough: parents

A Vancouver parent who’s suing the province over its COVID-19 back-to-school plan says a new learn-from-home o

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A Vancouver parent who’s suing the province over its COVID-19 back-to-school plan says a new learn-from-home option in the city is a good start, but that the province needs to do more.

The Vancouver School Board announced plans Friday for a new “transitional” option that would allow students to keep their place in their local school, while learning from home until they’re comfortable returning to class.

Read more: ‘Transitional’ option will allow Vancouver students to start school year at home

Gary Schuster, who suffers from a metabolic muscle disorder and has two school-aged kids, is one of two Metro Vancouver parents challenging the province’s school plans in B.C. Supreme Court.

“I’m very glad that they’re implicitly admitting that there’s a problem,” he told Global News, Saturday.

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Read more: Parents’ lawsuit seeks to block B.C.’s back-to-school plan, calls students ‘guinea pigs’

Federal funding for B.C. schools
Federal funding for B.C. schools

“The one thing they don’t have is the power of the Ministry of Education to do the things that they want to do.”

The district is expected to announce more details about the option on Monday, which was developed following results from a survey of more than 22,000 parents.

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Schuster said he’s pleased the district is listening, but that the survey itself offered little actual choice for parents.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Back-to-school plans for all B.C. school districts now posted online

But even with the proposed alternative, Schuster said B.C.’s province-wide plan remains flawed and puts unfair psychological pressure on kids who may fear bringing the virus home to their families.

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“Masks would dramatically change the equation. Smaller cohorts would also change the equation,” he said. “Kids should be worried about learning and not their family’s safety.”

Schuster’s comments came as a small crowd of teachers and parents demonstrated outside Vancouver’s Queen Alexandra Elementary calling for a revamp of the province’s plan.

Government places emphasis on in-class learning in new back to school plans
Government places emphasis on in-class learning in new back to school plans

“The number one preventative of spreading a virus is masks. They are not mandatory. They need to be mandatory for all grades,” said demonstrator David Ivis.

“Distancing. Class size. There’s been no reduction in class size.”

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said she is pleased that the VSB is being flexible, but that it’s not fair that kids in other districts aren’t being offered the same options.

“It needs to be offered across the entire province. This is an equity issue,” she said. “Unfortunately at this moment we’re not seeing that.”

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READ MORE: Vancouver high schools to use hybrid model under coronavirus plan

Mooring said the province should be using new federal funding announced last week to equip districts for more distance learning options, and to hire teachers to shrink class sizes.

B.C.’s share of $2 billion in federal school funding is estimated to be more than $240 million, though it remains unclear how that will be spent.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said on Wednesday that all school districts will be empowered to offer distance learning, and that he is confident in mask and social distancing provisions in the back-to-school plan.

The province’s plan will include masks for older students in high-traffic areas, frequent hand washing, staggered start and break times and learning cohorts of 60-120 people.

Vancouver’s back-to-school plan already includes a hybrid-model for high school students, who will do about half of their core classwork online.

Read more: ‘Unrealistic’: Critics slam B.C. back-to-school COVID-19 ad featuring Dr. Bonnie Henry

Elementary school students will also do their classwork using Microsoft Teams software, in case the district needs to move away from in-class learning.

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But about a third of parents who answered the VSB’s survey still indicated they were uncomfortable with a return to in-class learning for their kids.

The new “transitional” option will allow those students to learn remotely, with support from a district-assigned teacher through one-on-one check ins.

Under the plan, those students would remain enrolled in their school, and would be placed in a learning cohort in anticipation of their potential return to the classroom.

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