Executive staff at School District No. 46 (SD46) are “working pretty much constantly” to get a plan together for how to educate its 3,300 students less than two weeks after the provincial health officer ordered all school districts to suspend in-class instruction until further notice.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to develop effective learning programs and supporting our students’ parents,” superintendent Patrick Bocking told Coast Reporter March 24.
“We’re not going to have educational products or practices all lined up for parents on Monday morning by any means. We’ve got a lot of work to do to make this a significant, long-term, effective educational experience.”
Education Minister Rob Fleming’s March 17 announcement that accompanied the public health officer’s order has left many questions in its wake.
Broadly, the ministry said every student will receive a final mark, students on track to move to the next grade will do so, and eligible Grade 12 students will graduate.
While assurances were included in the announcement that schools would use a “variety of measures to ensure continued learning for students,” details are scarce about what those measures will look like at SD46.
Some answers could be coming Friday, when the ministry was set to release a “framework” to guide school districts across the province that have been forced to close or overhaul virtually every program offered on school property – from pre-school to special needs care to coursework.
When asked about framework details, the Ministry of Education sent a statement to Coast Reporter: “Parents will be hearing from their school superintendent and/or school principal in the coming week with an update on where the local planning process is at and some information on timelines.” The statement said the ministry is in “frequent contact” with school districts, schools and education partners and has sent joint letters to the BC Teachers Federation and CUPE members. “The Ministry will also be providing additional resources and an update for parents and students in the K-12 school community later this week.”
Meetings with principals, facilities managers, human resources and finance staff were scheduled for March 25, but the district is also depending on guidance from the framework, which means plans can’t be made until next week and beyond.
“Next week is going to be a lot of thinking, a lot of working together, a lot of collaborating, a lot of communication with each other in terms of staff, as well as with our families,” Bocking said, adding that he is unable to provide “a specific time” when the district will be ready to roll out education activities.
For now, he said, the district will be prioritizing students more so than their academics. “In the greater scheme of things, right now, immediately, [academics are] not the most important thing.”
Student support and instruction director Kate Kerr is working with staff and community organizations to coordinate care for vulnerable students more dependent on the school system for care.
Bocking said they expect some clarity from the provincial framework for how to provide “some level of service” for essential service workers who don’t have any options for child care. “We have a mandate to provide that support in some manner,” he said.
Programs have yet to be designed, locations decided and support staff chosen. Community consultation is also expected in the coming weeks to establish the degree of need.
Looking ahead to next year, kindergarten registration began early February and for the first time the bulk of it can be done online. Bocking is encouraging people to continue with online registration. “We need to know our numbers.”
And despite in-school instruction being suspended for now, Bocking said the district hasn’t laid off any employees. “We don’t anticipate doing that. It’s part of the mandate we have to continue working with all of our staff and there will be important work for all of them to do.”
Governance also will continue in some semblance of normal. A special board meeting was planned for Thursday, March 26 and will be live streamed on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/SD46Schools