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  • Tracy Sherlock

Federal money can be used to hire more teachers, beef up online options, Education Minister says

School districts can use federal funding to hire more teachers for remote learning, Education Minister Rob Fleming said Thursday.

B.C.’s share of $2 billion in federal education funding will be allocated to school districts, based on enrolment, B.C.’s education minister Rob Fleming said.

B.C.’s share is $242.36 million or about $440 per student, but half will come from the federal government in September and the other half in January. The first instalment of $120 million will be divided $101.1 million for public schools, $8 million for independent schools and $12 million will be reserved for emerging issues, Fleming said. The second half will be allotted later in the year.

The money will allow school districts to hire and train more teachers and support staff for remote learning, purchase additional software licences, electronic course materials and textbooks, purchase computers or tablets, and create Wi-Fi hubs and internet access in remote and Indigenous communities, the ministry said.

Teachers and parents have been calling for online options that would allow students to stay connected to their schools and classrooms.

“Making sure there is space in classrooms and common areas in schools to allow everyone to abide by physical distancing best practices will help keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said BCTF president Teri Mooring. “Everyone in BC has heard that physical distancing is the most important measure to protect ourselves and others. So, let’s get to work making the changes we need now to use this funding to make working and learning conditions safer.”

Mooring urged districts to use the funding to ensure smaller classes and reduced density in classrooms, but Fleming said each district can decide how it wants to spend the money.

“It’s going to look different depending on the needs of each district,” Fleming said. “Every dollar of the federal funding announced will benefit students in B.C.”

When asked if students will be able to keep their spots in their neighbourhood school if they decide to study online, Fleming said many districts are offering an option that includes this.

“Obviously, catchment policies are clearly a school district responsibility and there will be some trade off and tough choices that they will have to make because some programs are very well subscribed.”

Districts have been surveying parents about their preferences for back-to-school.

In Vancouver, 69 per cent of parents said their children will return in person, but 29 per cent wanted an online option. In Surrey, 13 per cent of parents said their child would not be returning in September and more than half said they were looking for something different than what was offered in Surrey’s original restart plan. Both Surrey and Vancouver school districts have since developed “transition” options where students will start the year learning remotely.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in her Thursday update that B.C.’s incidence rate of covid-19 per 100,000 people is 11, but that recommendations are that opening schools and businesses is safe as long as that incidence rate is below 25. But B.C.’s pandemic is focused in Metro Vancouver and the incidence rate in Fraser Health is 15.7 and in Vancouver Coastal Health is 18.6.

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