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Some students fall through the cracks as pandemic drags on

School district urges parents, students to reach out if they need support
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Some parents are worried their kids are "falling through the cracks" as School District 48 grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured is Whistler Secondary School. File photo by Clare Ogilvie

While the provincial government announced last week that students have the option to return to class part-time starting on June 1, some parents are concerned about their children's education as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on.

Marnie Gibson's son is in Grade 12 at Whistler Secondary School (WSS), taking three classes this semester ahead of graduation. But when in-school classes moved to at-home learning after spring break, her son, she said, all but fell through the cracks.

More motivated by sports than academics, said Gibson, he's lacking the structure he needs now that his classes largely consist of weekly emails from teachers. While some students have had consistent video conferencing opportunities with their teachers and classmates, others—like her son—have not.

"How can we get our teenagers out of bed when there's nothing?" Gibson asked. "How do I work with that? It's simply not right. He has assignments. He's supposed to log in—one teacher specifically said she's not using Google Classrooms, just email. [She] emails on Monday. Her expectation is they hand in assignments on Friday. But if he doesn't hand it in on Friday, there are no late marks ... He can basically leave it until June."

With School District 48 saying that Grade 12 students who were eligible to graduate before spring break will, in fact, graduate, Gibson also worries they will simply be shuffled along.

She added: "My concern is not about the lack of work; it's about the lack of connection, lack of schedule, lack of any type of structure. How did they go from structured, show-up-at-school to do-it-on-your-own with no type of transition?"

Gibson has raised her concerns at the school and is hopeful circumstances will improve, but she is still worried about the six weeks of schooling her son has lost.

"I don't want it to seem like I'm smashing all teachers," she said. "There are great teachers."

The voluntary return to class could help some students come June 1. But officials warn school won't look like it did before spring break. Student numbers will be limited in schools (under 50 per cent for kindergarten and 20 per cent for elementary/high schools), things like lunch breaks/pick-up/drop-off will be staggered, and parents will be required to self-check their kids for flu-like symptoms every morning.

"Things will be strict, but it needs to be," said B.C. education minister Rob Fleming during a press conference on Friday, May 15.

Meanwhile, Chris Nicholson, assistant superintendent at the school district, said any students (or their parents) who feel they're not getting the education they need should reach out to the school.

The district has had kids "with significant needs" and those of Tier 1 essential workers in school during the pandemic, but if online learning isn't working for a student, they could head back to class as well, he said.

"We do know for some kids, the online learning environment might not be best suited to their learning," Nicholson added.

"That's definitely a concern. I know our teachers and schools are ready, willing, and able to provide supports that might be necessary, including in-school support, ensuring they're following all proper protocols."

Addressing why some classes have moved to more structured online learning than others, Nicholson said the district aims for personalized education with both teachers and students.

"Rather than dictate and say, 'a teacher shall ensure students will have x number of hours per week,' we are relying on and have confidence in the professionalism of our teachers to establish what makes sense in their class," he said.

Meanwhile, Lisa McCullough, superintendent of the district, sent out an email highlighting plans to bring some students back to in-school learning. Once the province moves to Phase 3 of its reopening plan, students in kindergarten to Grade 5 will be invited back on a part-time basis. Students from Grades 6 to 12 will also have more opportunity for in-person support, the letter said.

"Our staff will be at school and work sites preparing our buildings for the new safety standards required before increasing the number of people at each site," the letter said.

"This will include redesigning classrooms to create additional open space and to accommodate enhanced cleaning routines, creating part-time learning schedules, building transportation plans, creating new arrival and departure routines, outlining staggered breaks and lunch scheduling for students, creating new emergency plans, creating new staff schedules, and so on."

But for students like Gibson's son, that could come too late. "If my son does nothing, they'll just push him along," she said. "What are we going to do, just send this kid off even if he doesn't have the credits? It just doesn't seem like they're doing enough."

-with files from Chuck Chiang/Business in Vancouver



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