By PETER MILOBAR
MLA, Kamloops-North Thompson
LAST WEDNESDAY, the NDP government finally announced the long-awaited back-to-school plan for teachers and families. Families across British Columbia have been kept in the dark about what our schools will look like when they reopen.
Without any opportunity to properly plan for the return to work, arrange daycare, or prepare their kids to return to classrooms, parents have been rightfully stressed out. Unfortunately, with only weeks remaining until our kids are supposed to be walking through the halls of our schools again, Education Minister Rob Fleming’s plan that promised to put families’ concerns at ease did little more than create more confusion and anxiety.
While parents, teachers, and families were told that a full plan would be available by July 29, what they got did little to address the very real concerns and anxieties they are feeling. B.C. is planning for students to return to the classrooms full-time in September, where they will be structured into learning cohorts. Elementary schools will be structured into cohorts of 60 while high school students will have 120.
The first thing that stands out is the size of these cohorts. Quebec elementary schools are running on a system that revolves around groups of 24 divided into smaller groups of 6. Considering restaurants are allowing no more than 6 people at a table and in-person events are capped at 50, it’s concerning when we’re being told to send our kids to school in groups more than twice that size.
As far as any further details go, there aren’t many. Schools and school districts have now been given just a few weeks to organize the rest themselves. How are education professionals supposed to structure classes and schedules to safely keep these cohorts separate?
How are staff and teachers supposed to apply additional handwashing and safety measures in such a short time? How are we supposed to contain positive cases among students if they can interact with those within their cohorts? The response from government to all these questions is the same: you will just have to figure it out.
This is not the leadership that British Columbians should be given from this government. The BCTF has been extremely vocal, publicly announcing that the current model creates far too many risks for students and teachers. With polls showing that nearly half of all parents and teachers are still uncertain about kids returning to classrooms full-time, this government needs to do more to accommodate for a back-to-school plan that works for students and families, and provides more certainty.
Minister Fleming has said that kids wishing to stay home can use online and distance learning tools, but forgot to mention that his government recently slashed $12 million in funding to Independent Distributed Learning programs – the same programs that offer online learning tools.
The BC Liberals have been listening to the very real concerns of parents, teachers and education professionals across B.C. The NDP needs to know how their plans and policies are impacting people.
My colleague, education critic Dan Davies, is hosting a virtual town hall on Tuesday, Aug. 11 at 3 p.m. to hear from people about what this back-to-school plan means for them and their families. We want to provide solutions and ideas and the best people to get those from are the people who are dealing with this first-hand. Details for the townhall can be found at http://www.bcedtownhall.eventbrite.ca/ and registration is free.
We all want to see our kids return to classrooms to continue learning, but we want to see it done in a way that will bring us as much success with as little risk as possible. In order to do this, we need to act fast. I encourage you all to join the townhall or reach out to my office so that together, we can ensure this government listens to the advice of teachers and families and re-works our back-to-school plan before it is too late.
Peter Milobar is the MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson.