Chilliwack families hoping to avoid traditional classrooms this fall have one less alternative, with the temporary closure of Fraser Valley Distance Education (FVDES).
The school has been downsizing for a number of years, and the school district made the decision to completely restructure it in February this year. That was just a month or so before the COVID-19 pandemic closed all B.C. schools in March.
“The timing with COVID has not been ideal in the downsizing and restructuring of FVDES,” says Sean Wicker, Principal for Alternate Education in Chilliwack. But he adds that the restructuring only means a short break from fully-online school opportunities. The first step back is the Kindergarten to Grade 8 Hybrid Program that begins in September. That will have students in classrooms just two days a week, and working at home three days a week.
But the secondary level grades will not be ready until January or September 2021, and those will be limited “as we rebuild a sustainable program strong pedagogy, supports, and rigour,” Wicker says. “With all the changes happening with Stage 2 COVID responses at the secondary level, we will not be able to create a re-visioned program for September.”
In the meantime, the district is encouraging families to find distance learning programs in neighbouring districts.
“However, if families are not sure of what to do, or are waiting and seeing how the first few weeks of September roll out, then I recommend that parents connect directly with their school principal to consult on options,” he says.
That’s not good enough for many Chilliwack families, who were hoping that distance learning would be available through the district.
“Giving our now Grade 9 student and many other students no option at all for remote learning nor virtual learning — not even a compromise of a hybrid option — means excluding those who are immune compromised, have a condition that is high risk for co-morbidity or have a family in this delicate balance, from accessing an education,” says Chilliwack parent Angela Wickens.
“It’s unacceptable, shameful for our elected representatives to stand by and allow this to happen,” she adds.
The outlook for FVDES has been poor for a number of years, with a budget deficit over $1 million in 2018. At that time, then assistant superintendent Rohan Arul-Pragasam said that blended learning would be an eventuality for the school.
Distance learning schools are not required by the Ministry of Education, and are run as a business by individual districts. FVDES was one of nine across the province until 2011, when more schools began running them. Now, there are numerous small distance learning programs run by school districts, plus countless private businesses that families can use.
In 2012 through 2014, FVDES had 32 teaching staff members, five counsellors, a five-person admin team, 15 clerical staff, 15 off-site markers, two and a half tech assistants, three special ed teachers and two special ed assistants (EAs), along with one child and youth care worker. In 2018, school started with just seven teachers, three EAs, four clerical positions, one vice principal and one half time technician.
For a list of which school districts are offering distributed learning, visit Learn Now B.C.
Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.