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  • Tracy Sherlock

This week in B.C. schools: Online learning and TV ads

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

This screenshot is from the back-to-school advertisement with Dr. Bonnie Henry.

B.C.’s two biggest school districts, Vancouver and Surrey, announced they would be offering online “transition” options for students. For most of the summer, education authorities said the only online options would be distance learning, which can require registration outside of a student’s regular school, or homeschooling. More than 40,000 people signed a petition asking for an online option and teachers continued to call for this to reduce the number of students in any given classroom.

Last week, the federal government announced $2 billion in funding to make schools safe during the pandemic, but there’s no word yet on how B.C.’s share will be used. On the same day as that announcement, B.C. education minister Rob Fleming said districts could offer remote learning options.

Both Vancouver and Surrey’s online learning plans are called “transition” plans – in other words, they are for students who have the intention of eventually returning to in-person learning. In Vancouver, 28 per cent of parents indicated in a survey they would prefer their children to learn online for now.

The Vancouver School Board plan for elementary will provide assignments and check-in support from the school for about 1.5 to two hours each week and parents will need to support children’s learning. Students will keep their spot in their school and there will be some opportunity to remain connected to the classroom as well as different dates to return to in-class learning, VSB documents show. Students with special needs will continue to have individual learning plans and be supported by the school.

Surrey’s superintendent of schools Jordan Tinney said elementary students and Grade 8s and 9s in that district will have the option of a program with online, multi-age classes five mornings a week that is attached to their local school. In the afternoons, teachers will work together, be available to parents and gradually start to attend school in person. For secondary students, Surrey is collecting survey information to determine how many students want this option.

In other news this week, the B.C. government released a TV advertisement with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talking about the back-to-school plan, set in a classroom with some children. Global News reported that the government said in a statement that “in order to videotape the ad, the number of students in the room was limited for health and safety reasons and the children were placed at safe distances from each other.” Teachers, who have been critical of the government’s plan due to concerns that social distancing won’t be possible in classrooms, were not impressed. Dr. Henry said the ad was not intended to represent a typical classroom, but was a conversation between herself and children and parents.

When asked about the ad, Dr. Bonnie Henry said it wasn’t intended to represent a typical classroom, but rather was a public health conversation between herself and students and parents.

“When we’re talking about schools and a regular day-to-day basis for schools, what we’re looking at is the classroom is your unit of connection and that is a set, controlled environment and we know it will be the same children every day that will be in that small group with the same adults every day,” Dr. Henry said. “The numbers of teachers and children that they will interact with is contained and limited and we will have distancing within those classroom settings, within those small numbers of groups of children.”

But B.C.'s back to school plan says: "People in a learning group don't need to stay two metres apart but they must limit physical contact."

Other notable education stories this week:

- In New York, the start of school is now pushed back by 10 days to September 21, after teachers threatened to strike, the New York Times reports.

- Education unions in Ontario have filed a labour board challenge over the province’s back-to-school plan, the Globe and Mail reports.

- Families without formal immigration status in British Columbia have extra concerns about covid-19, the Tyee reports.

- Public health officials in Alberta are asking teachers and school staff members to get covid-19 tests before school starts next week, the CBC reports.

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