Wednesday August 12, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC |with west shore details
by Mary P Brooke, editor | West Shore Voice News
Clearly in response to concerns and pressure from teachers, parents and even the broader community of businesses and employees in other sectors about return-to-school during the COVID-19 pandemic, BC Minister of Education Rob Fleming yesterday indicated that first teachers will go back to school on September 8, followed by students at some later date.
Fleming said it’s important “staff have a couple of days” before welcoming back kids to into the schools for in-class learning.
Teachers want to prepare their workspaces in terms of viral-spread safety, before students return, it was implied by BC Teachers Federation president Teri Mooring yesterday.
BC Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry effectively opened the door to parents last week, saying that return-to-school comments and concerns should be directed to school districts. There was also a public petition launched online last week which garnered almost 30,000 signatures.
Premier taking media questions today:
Today Premier John Horgan will take media questions at 1 pm, likely almost entirely on the matter of return-to-school.
A phased-in approach is being taken to the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Teachers will return on Tuesday September 8 after the Labour Day long weekend, to prepare the classroom spaces.
Students are to return to school starting Thursday September 10 and Friday September 11 (check local school district websites for details starting August 26).
Concerns from parents:
Most parents have been concerned that after five months of pandemic instruction from public health about maintaining physical distancing, that now relatively large groupings of people would be sharing the same physical space for extended lengths of time in classrooms and other school settings.
Public health guidelines to date including the learning group model of 60 persons in elementary and middle schools (students, teachers, staff, and bus drivers) and 120 persons in high schools, might look good on paper. But parents — who must look their children in the eye as they send them in to the infection zone — have responded with resistance.
In recent weeks, Dr Henry explained how the cohort model would be safe, but she has done such a good job of educating an attentive public about physical distancing and avoiding closed poorly ventilated spaces that parents are sensibly speaking up about a mass return to school.
Premier Horgan and his NDP government steadfastly support public education, and getting students back to school on time in an organized fashion — even during a pandemic — would seem like an important philosophical achievement.
But in practicality, the playing field is messy. Squeezing multiple persons back into buildings not particularly designed for spacious seating or activity has met with significant resistance at a time when public health advised against close contact in closed spaces.
While parents have been disgruntled for weeks, it seems that specific pressures from the BC Teachers Federation — 45,000 members strong — has tipped the tide for a delayed school year restart. Among much other work done by BCTF on this issue, they have posted a safety checklist for teachers.
Rethinking education during a pandemic:
Schools are obviously needing to rethink the idea of how education is delivered during a pandemic. So far, the focus seems to be on getting everyone back into physical schools, without much mention of a hybrid model which appeared to be quite successful for public safety early on in the pandemic this year. This could be more about a philosophy of equal-access to education, given that at-home or remote learning does depend on the availability of communications technologies and reliable Internet access.
There is a repeated message that schools are about more than ‘just curriculum’, which — as an education system — seems like an odd thing to isolate in the argument. For the Horgan government, schools are recognized as a key plank in allowing for parents to be actively engaged in the workplace so that economic considerations are supported. Getting kids back into schools is a way of getting closer to ‘normal’ socioeconomic function.
But a pandemic is not a normal situation and this particular pandemic is not expected to end any time soon. A second COVID-19 wave is now generally expected in fall/winter 2020-2021. The safety of families for this coming year might have to be paramount to the delivery of a ‘normal’ year of education. COVID-19 is a war zone, and it’s tough to normalize that.
Some school districts in BC — such as SD33 in Chilliwack — are offering hybrid learning for the entire school year.
SD62 school district focus:
In the west shore area — where Sooke School District 62 (SD62) delivers public education to families in Langford, Colwood, Sooke and surrounding areas (with a student population of over 11,000) — parents have been vocal about their concerns.
The SD62 administration says it is open to parental input. “SD62 has always encouraged parents, families, community to contact us directly,” said SD62 communications rep Lindsay Vogan yesterday. Contact to the SD62 administration office can be through phone, email, Facebook, and Twitter “in the hopes of making it simple for everyone”. The school district administration office on Jacklin Road in Langford is effectively closed to in-person visits during the pandemic.
SD62 says that “we absolutely want to hear from parents about their concerns about the return to school for their children”. But they also imply that they have things under control: “What we’re noticing is that people are really listening; they know that SD62 is working hard at putting the Return to School plans in place and are patiently waiting to see them.”
Apparently in the last week or so, the SD62 main board office has received “a handful of emails” but that the number of messages is “expected to grow, as it always does, as we get closer to the end of the month”. However, this is not ‘August as usual’, given the pandemic conditions in which there is still no vaccine against the COVID-19 virus and parents, teachers and students would have legitimate concerns about recollecting groups of people (until now, separated in their social bubbles) into closed school spaces.
What parents are concerned about:
SD62 says that the range of concerns heard so far at their office is that “people want to know what the classroom might look like, how cohorts would be organized, what kind of sanitization measures would be in place”.
Vogan says: “These are all very important questions that are helping to guide the planning that is currently taking place.”
As it presently stands, school districts are to have their plans submitted to the Ministry of Education by August 21, and posted online for parents to see by August 26. | SD61 website (Greater Victoria) | SD62 website (Langford, Colwood, Sooke) | SD63 website (Saanich).
Rethinking education delivery tasked to school districts:
Schools are obviously needing to rethink the idea of how education is delivered during a pandemic. So far, the focus seems to be on getting everyone back into physical schools, without much mention of a hybrid model which appeared to be quite successful for public safety early on in the pandemic this year.
As for the setup of classrooms in SD62: “The district leads, school principals and more are currently working diligently (almost around the clock) to come up with plans for parents. We look forward to updating parents and families about the progress over the coming weeks.” No specific examples have been given yet as to setup of classrooms, or specialized areas like science labs or art rooms.
Ironically, the new outdoor-nature learning Eco Academy that was planned for a September 2020 start for high school students at Edward Milne Community School (EMCS) in Sooke is now postponed to starting in fall of 2021.
Meanwhile, sports-based academies are proceeding, apparently with even higher registration than usual, SD62 said yesterday in a statement to West Shore Voice News. Academies are a noted revenue-stream for SD62.
Redistribution of SD62 portable classrooms for Fall 2020:
Apparently plans for portables have not changed in SD62 (according to SD62 yesterday), even though the ‘additional space’ made possible with portables actually seems helpful during a pandemic.
No new portables are being added, but several are being redistributed, including 10 that were previously in use at Royal Bay Secondary in Colwood (where the completion of construction of 600 new seats will happen for September).
Capital planning for new schools and the use of portables in the meantime is being guided by information from municipalities on housing growth. SD62 is presently following a framework of student growth over the next eight years (based on 2018-2028 projections) which shows 3.8% more students in Langford, 3.6% more students in Colwood and Metchosin, and 0.9% more students in the Sooke area.
SD62 to have 31 portables in place for September 2020:
The current distribution of portable classrooms in SD62 was in place pre-COVID, as the school district continues to see an increasing student population due to rapid increases in housing and new families coming to the area.
The distribution of portables is as follows:
- Royal Bay Secondary (school in Colwood was new for September 2015, expanded for September 2020). The 10 portables that were in place during expansion-construction are being relocated to other schools in the district for September 2020.
- Wishart Elementary (Colwood) – getting two more (for total of five on site), using up one of the two fields / school population over 400 in 2020-2021.
- David Cameron Elementary (Colwood) – getting one more portable for a total of three for 2020-2021.
- Ruth King Elementary (central Langford) – two portables are being added this summer for a total of two on site for the 2020-2021 school year.
- Spencer Middle School (central Langford) – two portables being added this summer for a total of 10 portables on site for the 2020-2021 school year.
- Belmont Secondary School (in the Westhills area of Langford) – one more portable, for a total of four for 2020-2021.
- Sooke Elementary (on Highway 14/Sooke Road in town proper) – one more portable being added this summer for a total of three on site, in addition to one existing modular building on site for the 2020-2021 school year.
- Ecole Poirier Elementary (in suburban Sooke, right next door to Journey Middle School) – No portables being added this summer. The school will open with one existing portable and two modular buildings for the 2020-2021 school year.
- Millstream Elementary (in Langford) is receiving one additional portable this summer, opening in September 2020 with a total of four portables.
===== About the writer:
West Shore Voice News editor Mary Brooke has been reporting on education news (and SD62 in depth) since 2014. She is the mother of four children who went through the SD61 and SD62 school systems.
BC Ministry of Education – serving 553,000 public school students, 81,000 independent school students, and (pre-COVID) over 2,200 home-schooled children enrolled each school year.
Comments from SD62 parents on concerns about 2020 return to school (West Shore Voice News, August 6, 2020)
Online petition about BC Return to School (article and link to petition, August 9, 2020)