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  • Tracy Sherlock

VSB boosts its online learning for secondary students

The Vancouver School Board is adding more structured online learning for secondary students, in response to parent requests.

Vancouver schools chose a different model from many other districts, choosing to keep secondary classes to just 15 students. This means classes are split in half and 15 students attend a class in the morning and the other 15 attend in the afternoon. At the same time, students take one online class, and the online and in-person classes swap every second week.

The updated schedule will see those classes swap every week, so students have more frequent in-person contact with their teachers. Also, all Grade 8 students will attend those online classes in-person twice a week and all students will have three “interactive learning opportunities” per week for each online course.

Parents speaking out at a VSB meeting this week exemplified the controversy surrounding this decision – some wanted more online options to keep their children safe from covid-19, while others said online learning was causing mental health problems, learning problems and extreme isolation for their children.

“We are in a crisis right now,” said Nancy Small, a Vancouver parent of two secondary school students. “Not only a health crisis, but also a crisis for our children.”

Small cited a District Parent Advisory Council survey that three-quarters of the parents surveyed wanted more in-person time at school, saying she’s “extremely worried” about the future.

“The science is now proving that the mental health risks outweigh the physical risks of covid-19,” she said.

Other parents said giving homework isn’t the same thing as instruction and they felt that the online portion of the coursework was lacking.

But other parents argued for the expansion and continuation of online options, saying schools benefit from this because in-person classes are smaller and suggesting that teachers with compromised immune systems could be dedicated to teaching online.

Susan Kuo, a parent and a family doctor for 27 years, said VSB’s decision to reduce density in classes was a “great decision,” and suggesting that the larger in-person classes in Surrey and Delta could be fueling those cities’ higher case counts.

Kuo said children could be a source of infection to households and that they are often asymptomatic. She noted that there were five children in ICU in B.C. due to covid-19 in December.

Teachers in Surrey have been pushing for smaller classes to allow physical distancing in classrooms and the BC Teachers’ Federation has been advocating for smaller classes and a mandatory mask mandate.

Rob Schindel, VSB’s associate superintendent, said the new system is based on listening to students, families and staff.

“These changes ensure that health and safety remain our top priority for students and staff,” Schindel said in a news release. “The changes also reflect our commitment to student well-being, transparency, and data-driven decision-making.”

Parents talked about the possibility the pandemic may cause similar disruption in schools next year.

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