More than 600 Chilliwack students have been learning online at home since September through a special program designed due to COVID-19.
But now, the school district is asking the majority of those students to wrap up their year in person, in classrooms they’ve never been in.
The Learn at Home Transition Program was never meant to run the entire school year, senior district staff have said. They intended to wrap it up in December and bring students back slowly through the fall and entirely by January. However, when they polled participants in December, staff said they realized a clear desire was there for the program to continue. So they extended it then to spring break, and said it would end after that.
The funding for the program had run out, they had told trustees in December. And they reiterated that message in a school board meeting on Jan. 26.
But since that meeting, parents have been contacting administrators, district staff and school trustees, pleading for better explanations, and to request a program extension until the end of June. Many of them are just not ready to send their children back due to various health concerns, as COVID-19 has not abated. Some are also reporting conflicting information from school staff.
Students that do go back will go the classrooms they’ve been assigned to throughout the year.
Some parents say they were told to look for distance learning options outside of the district. Others were reportedly told they won’t receive a report card if they’re child doesn’t return to their classroom. Still others were told their child’s independent education program would not be supported out of school.
But it all changed in a presentation senior staff made to the board on Feb. 9, they said they found a way to keep four teachers working with the Learn at Home Transition Program. They will be referred to as curriculum support teachers. And parents are still being told to send their kids back to bricks and mortar classrooms.
Several trustees pressed staff for clarification.
“All the scientific evidence points to the fact that school transmission is very low. Schools are the safest place to be,” Rohan Arul-pragasam, interim superintendent, said in the meeting. “We are able to bring students back. Face-to-face instruction is the best.”
Board chair Willow Reichelt questioned them on the changed message, asking why the reason given to the board was first financial, and then “largely a philosophical decision.”
“I just need to know. I’ve been telling people there is no money left for this program,” she added. “Is that true?”
Kirk Savage explained that both issues came into play, both finances and the philosophy that students are better off learning in class than at home. One of the Learn at Home teachers’ role is to help transition students back into the classroom, along with literacy and numeracy support. That will also be a goal of the curriculum support teachers.
At a Nov. 24 board meeting, senior staff reported that 664 students were a part of Learn at Home from Kindergarten to Grade 8, while 8,604 students are learning in schools. There are now about 550 students in the transition program.
Administration from each school is working on connecting with families who are in the program to discuss the best options for their children.
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