B.C.’s teachers return to work next week as spring break draws to a close, but it’s still unclear what school will look like for thousands of students barred from classrooms during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Education Minister Rob Fleming, acting on the advice of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, suspended in-class instruction on March 17 to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
He pledged at the time that schools would put in place “a variety of measures to ensure continued learning for students.”
Those measures could include “online learning tools and/or resource packages or assignments emailed from teachers to parents,” the ministry says on its website, in response to a list of frequently asked questions.
Each school district, however, is responsible for developing its own plans, so it could be a while yet before students and families know exactly what to expect.
“We’re talking about moving a system that is primarily based on teachers standing in front of students in classrooms, to a system where it’s going to be primarily at a distance through some virtual connections,” Dave Eberwein, superintendent of the Saanich school district, said in an interview Thursday.
“So that’s a significant shift in delivery and assessment options. And what it looks like from day one will not [be] what it looks like on day 10 or day 20, or down the road.”
Eberwein, who updated parents in a letter Wednesday, said administrators expect to meet with teachers after they return to work next week before contacting students and families.
“As the week progresses, teachers are expected to be in contact — in virtual contact, obviously — with each student,” said Tim Dunford, who chairs the Saanich school board.
It’s bit premature to know exactly what learning will look like in the age of COVID-19, he said. “It will have to be distance, it will have to be virtual. It will have to include, obviously, internet usage to some degree. I know in our district we’re working on resources to help with that.
“If you have, say, a family with three children and one computer, and perhaps that computer is used for family business reasons as well, there has to be some alignment, some coordination with how that’s going to work for each of the students. Those things are being worked out.”
Jordan Watters, who chairs the Greater Victoria school board, said a similar process is under way in her district. “It’s been all hands on deck for the last two weeks with our senior leadership team working really hard to sort of put the foundation in place,” she said.
As of Monday, only principals, custodians and secretarial staff will be in Greater Victoria schools and holding online meetings with teachers to map out the next steps, superintendent Shelley Green said Thursday.
Schools will focus on planning for the first two weeks, and staff will contact families to find out what resources they have, she said. “Do they have a laptop computer? Do they have access to the internet? So, get some idea of what we’re working with.
“And see how they’re feeling as well, both physically and mentally. Because it’s not just providing support on educational aspects, but certainly mental health supports. Kids will be going through anxiety, as will their parents.”
In the meantime, the district plans to post learning materials that will keep students of all ages occupied.
“Parents will be able to go on our website and click onto the appropriate grade and see something every day that they can be working through with literacy, numeracy, mental health and well being, physical health,” Green said in an interview.
“People who may not have actual computers can just use their phone to go straight on there and see it on our website.”
As for accessing school buildings, a few teachers at a time will be allowed in to safely gather whatever they need to deliver their courses from home. A similar process will be used to allow students to pick-up personal belongings and learning materials, all while making sure they follow provincial health directives on physical distancing and hygiene in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re all in this together and we’re going to figure it out together,” Watters said. “We do all have to be sort of flexible and patient, but nobody’s going to be left in the lurch.
“We have amazing teachers in our district and across the region and I know they’re up to the challenge, even though this is absolutely not how anybody wanted to finish off the year.”
Fleming has offered assurances that “every student will receive a final mark, and all students on track to move to the next grade will do so in the fall.” As for those in Grade 12, every student eligible to graduate this year will do so, he said.