When the province laid out the back-to-school plan for B.C. students, Philip Almendrala immediately had concerns.
“We all know that the virus is still there, so there is still the risk,” he told CTV News. “Me and my wife are still not comfortable sending my kids to school.”
In a news conference Wednesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming announced by the time Sept. 8 rolls around, most students will be back at school for full-time, in-class instruction.
This will be done by dividing students into learning groups, or cohorts, to limit interactions between students. The maximum in elementary and middle schools will be 60 students and in high schools, 120.
“You stay in that learning group core subjects even some electives will be organized within that 120 group student learning groups and you stay with them in a semester system and then you may be in a different learning cohort when the next semester begins again,” Fleming said Tuesday.
But after months of being told not to gather with more than 50 people, to physically distance and to wear masks when you can’t, news of in-class instruction has come as a surprise to many parents.
“They don’t just give any options to the parents,” said Almendrala.
“I would rather have the government give us options on whether we can keep our kids doing virtual learning.”
He has an 11-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter who both go to school in Richmond. He told CTV News he and his wife changed their work schedules to manage the distance learning that was implemented in June and for them, that was working.
“Why risk sending the children to school when we already made our schedules to makes sure that at least one person is always home with the kids,” he said.
In an emailed statement to CTV News, David Sadler, director of communications and marketing for the Richmond School District No. 38, said in part, “Parents have always had the option of enrolling their child in a distributed learning program and will continue to have that option if they choose not to enrol their child in their neighbourhood school program. Parents who choose to enrol their child in their neighbourhood school will be expected to send their child to school.”
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Sadler went on to say that the school district is taking direction from provincial health experts and keeping students, staff and families safe is a top priority but, “remote learning opportunities are very likely not be offered as they were in the spring, unless the public health conditions were to change.”
A Ministry of Education spokesperson said in a statement that they are “encouraging parents to enrol their children as they normally would and will continue to work to build their confidence in the safe restart of in-class learning.”
The spokesperson added that both public and independent schools offer distributed learning courses which, “provide an alternative pathway for students to learn outside of a regular classroom setting. Students can enrol in distributed schools outside their home district. Students enrolled in public distributed learning classes are connected to a teacher for the course of the class, term, or year.”
Almendrala has looked into home schooling as an alternative, but said he would rather his kids are educated by their teachers, saying he and his wife are not educators.
“All we want is for the B.C. government to give us options to do virtual learning and not just pushing a one-size-fits-all mandate for every parent.”
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