The good news is, Fraser Valley Distance Education School will remain open.
That information was delivered to a group of about 20 parents from the school who gathered Friday morning for a meeting with administration, including Chilliwack School District’s assistant superintendent, Rohan Arul-Pragasam. Changes have been taking place over the past school year at the distance learning school, including a paring down of teachers who have been moved to other positions in the district.
There have been rumours floating around that FVDES would be closing, due to plummeting enrolment numbers and a drastic budget shortfall (This year’s deficit is $1.1 million. With the school’s reserves, their net shortfall is $958,000.)But a closure is not going to happen, Arul-Pragasam assured parents.
Arul-Pragasam laid out the overall picture for the school going forward, which will include moving the DL program under the Chilliwack School District’s larger umbrella, and focusing on “blended learning” opportunities. Blended learning is a combination of learning in the classroom with the FVDES staff, and learning at home with parental supervision. But other than that, the picture is still unclear.
Arul-Pragasam admitted that it must be frustrating for parents, especially those of children with special needs who are enrolled in FVDES. Parents at the meeting described FVDES as “a gem” and “actually lifesaving,” while they spoke through tears about how important the programs and services are to their families. Although many may assume distance learning is just home schooling, it’s actually a network of programs, supports, teachers, classes, and courses that families can access.
“Leah Kelly (a FVDES teacher) is a gem,” one parent said. “She deserves a standing ovation.”
Despite the success of the school, it is unlike other aspects of education in B.C. Distance learning schools are not required by the Ministry of Education, and are run as a business. FVDES was one of nine across the province until 2011, when more and more schools began running them. Now, there are about 70 small DL programs run by school districts, plus countless private businesses that families can use.
So what can parents do? The school district and FVDES administration are asking for all concerned DL parents to connect with them in the coming weeks. While they can’t promise to meet the needs of every individual student, they want to provide a place for feedback.
“I don’t know what you’re living but I’m a teacher and a I’m a parent and so when you tell your stories I hear it,” Arul-Pragasam says.
He said the district hopes to report back to FVDES parents on March 6 or 7 with a more detailed look at how the school will operate.
For updates, parents can join the FVDES Facebook page or contact the FVDES parent advisory council at firstname.lastname@example.org.