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  • Tracy Sherlock

What should parents and teachers expect after spring break?

While the details are anything but clear, teachers are expected back to work after spring break, but in-person classes are suspended.

What will that mean?

“Stay tuned,” Vancouver School Board superintendent Suzanne Hoffman said in a tweet on March 20.

VSB staff are working on future plans for students and staff, with health and safety the first priority, she tweeted. Also, they’re looking at how to provide a “continuation of learning,” food for vulnerable students and child care for essential service providers.

Will teachers be expected to move their classes online, as university instructors have done, basically overnight, earlier this month? I think it’s likely, in some form. Will that be equitable for all learners? Will online learning, done with little planning, be effective for all learners? Will the process be easy and smooth for teachers? The answer to all of those questions is no, but in the face of the COVID19 pandemic, we are left with few choices. Speaking from experience – I moved the university courses I teach online last week – it will be stressful and glitchy, but teachers and students will get through it. It won’t be perfect, but learning will still happen. One teacher I know in another part of the world who has been trying to connect with her students from home said it has been an “extraordinarily stressful experience.” But that’s probably true for most of us and much worse for doctors, she said. Behind the scenes, on Friday, Vancouver educators were sent an email, signed by deputy superintendent David Nelson on behalf of the district’s leadership team, saying that all staff should report to work as scheduled. But students won’t be coming to school and exactly what “reporting to work” will look like is still to be determined, the email says. “Please note that there is no expectation that things will look and feel the same in terms of service provided in schools,” the email says. “Further, there is no expectation from the Ministry of Education that districts will be ready to provide instruction or service immediately following spring break. This will take time to plan and implement.” We don’t know how long the social distancing required to fight this pandemic will last. It may extend into the fall, or even further. Students need to keep learning during that time and there is only so much parents can do, particularly without resources. But not every student has access to a computer at home, which could cause grave inequity, to say nothing of the data overload our Internet infrastructure might face with everyone working from home, including half a million children. I’m sure teachers and other school staff want to keep being paid and not lose their jobs, so moving to some sort of virtual learning environment for a while seems inevitable. “School districts are expected to develop plans that address how we can provide learning opportunities of some kind to students,” Nelson says in the email. “There is an expectation that all districts will ensure that students in Grade 12 are not disadvantaged by this situation.” The Education Ministry is working on ideas and options right now, the email says. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that child care for essential service workers must continue. “The government has not yet defined which service workers will be included in that group, nor what that service might look like,” the email says. The school district is also looking at ways to support vulnerable students and families, the email says. There are a lot of unknowns. But what is clear is that everyone is in this together. Every single one of us is stressed out by this pandemic. There’s no one it doesn’t touch. While we all know it’s important to wash our hands and stay home, we also need to remember to be kind to each other. No one asked for this. The folks making decisions right now have to weigh many different ethical dilemmas and try to come up with a solution that is best for everyone. Health and safety are what’s driving all of this change. I have no doubt health and safety will be top of mind as decisions are made. Remember, it’s for the kids.

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