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  • Tracy Sherlock

Vancouver's September school plan calls for smaller secondary classes, hybrid learning

The Vancouver School Board has released its back-to-school proposal.

Secondary school students will see smaller classes in Vancouver in September, but elementary classes will remain the same size, a proposal by the The Vancouver School Board shows.

The VSB secondary school plan is complicated. It splits the year into quarters, each 10 weeks long. In each quarter, students will take two classes, one in person and one online. For the in-person class, students will be in either a morning group or an afternoon group. In between there will be “flex time,” which is a time that can be used to schedule courses that don’t work well on a quarter schedule.

The courses will rotate in two-week chunks, where for one two-week period it is online and for another it is in-person. That means the morning class will be in person for two weeks, then online for two weeks and vice versa for the afternoon class. Because classes will be split in half, students will be in classes of only 15 students, but their learning group could be up to 120 people.

Having some students start in the morning and others later in the day, means a lighter load for public transit and also means fewer students arriving or leaving school at the same time.

At any given time, there should be no more than 60 or 70 per cent of students in the school, da Silva said. In addition, schools will be providing space and technology so that students who do not have access to the internet or a computer at home can use one at school, da Silva said.

Pedro da Silva, VSB’s associate superintendent, said the plan is fluid, so that schools can easily revert to fully online learning or fully in-person learning if the province changes into a different covid-19 phase.

Deputy superintendent David Nelson said VSB has heard from parents that they would like the option of attending school fully online. “We are certainly hearing lots of feedback and concerns from parents,” Nelson said, adding that they’ve shared that with the province and hope to have more information to share soon.

The district will adapt and be flexible for students who are immunocompromised or who live with family members who are, da Silva said.

For elementary students, class sizes will remain the same and students will be in learning groups of no more than 60 people, including students and adults, as the provincial plan outlines. The class will be the primary learning group, but two classes could possibly interact and still stay under the 60-student limit.

Students will eat lunch in their classrooms and students in Grades six and seven will wear masks when they are in the hallways or outside of their learning groups. Everyone will be able to wear a mask if they wish, said Deena Kotak Buckley, VSB director of instruction.

Classes will use Microsoft Teams, so they can easily shift between in-person and online learning.

At a board meeting discussing the guidelines, VSB trustee Barb Parrott asked how physical distancing will work in elementary schools, since class sizes are not reduced. Deputy superintendent David Nelson said the two-meter physical distancing will not take place within learning cohorts, but that adults and people outside of learning cohorts will be expected to keep physical distance.

Trustee Lois Chan-Pedley asked if a hybrid model is being developed for elementary students. Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman said there is a lot of anxiety among parents and VSB has shared that with the province.

Trustee Jennifer Reddy asked what the process would be to ensure that individual education plans are implemented this year. District staff said the process would be similar to that in previous years.

A special plan for vulnerable students and those with diverse learning needs must be submitted to the province, Hoffman said.

The plan is subject to Ministry of Education approval.

The board agreed to advocate for funding for ventilation improvements for schools and for provisions to enable physical distancing in elementary schools.

Parents can expect to hear from their school by August 31 and from their teacher by September 9. The first week of school will be used for a health and safety orientation for staff and students and September 14 will be the first full day of instruction in Vancouver schools and that’s also when gradual entry for kindergarten students will begin.

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