Though in-class learning only resumed in School District 51 – Boundary two weeks ago, management is already looking at how education in the district may differ next September, assuming COVID-19 precautions continue to govern the number of students permitted in a classroom at a given time.
At its monthly board meeting held June 9, the district’s board of directors approved funding to hire two additional full-time teachers who will specialize in distance education support. Since spring break ended in March, students and staff alike have taken to online platforms to convene in virtual classrooms. But, with teachers now expected to work in their classrooms with fewer students, the district is hoping that the additional teachers dedicated to online learning support can share some of the workload.
“The intentionality is because we don’t know what to expect,” district superintendent Ken Minette said at the meeting. “[This way], at least we have an alternative.”
In an early June press conference, B.C. Minister of Education Rob Fleming said a decision about how schooling would look like in the fall would come by mid-August. “It’s likely that we will have to have a hybrid system again until we have a vaccine, until the pandemic is officially over,” he said at the time.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she couldn’t predict how the virus would evolve over the summer months. “We don’t know what’s going to happen between now and then,” she said, adding that it was “very likely” that some learning would continue to be remote and online.
“I think it will be different than what we are seeing right now.”
In his report to the board, Minette said that around 45 per cent of elementary school students have returned to class for their permitted two days per week, while 27 per cent of secondary students in the district have returned for their allotted one day per week of in-class learning.
The decision to approve funding for two full-time-equivalent teaching positions for online learning came as district secretary-treasurer Miranda Burdock presented the preliminary budget for the 2020/2021 school year and to-date expenses for the current school year.
As of May 31, the district had spent nearly $38,000 on COVID-specific costs, including several specialized disinfectant sprayers that custodians are using in the schools to clean.
Costs were down from projections for substitute teachers, training sessions, staff travel and school transportation budgets, as field trips for the spring were cancelled and staff tried to restrict their footprints by meeting virtually instead.
– With files from Katya Slepian