STONE – NDP’s ever changing back-to-school plan has become frustrating

MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson

AS HAS BEEN THE CASE for thousands of parents across British Columbia, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the NDP government’s back-to-school plan.

MLA Todd Stone.

My colleagues and I have received hundreds of letters from concerned parents, teachers and administrators, all of whom are increasingly frustrated and anxious about the NDP’s ever-changing plan with its lack of clarity, lack of sufficient resourcing and lack of availability of hybrid learning options.

With our three daughters in the public-school system here in Kamloops, our family, too, has struggled to make sense of all this confusion as the NDP has been all over the map on this file.

First, there was going to be one province-wide plan. Then that changed to ‘there will be 60 plans’, specific to each school district.

Sept. 8 was a hard deadline for resumption of in-person classes; then the NDP announced that classes won’t start until after that date. There’s no certainty as to how long and how often children will be in class, and what before- and after-school care will look like.

After making hybrid learning options available to all students last June, inexplicably the NDP have now decided to not make these options available to students as of the resumption of school in September.

This was confirmed in an e-mail my wife and I received from our local School District 73, within which we were formally advised of the following: “The hybrid model of in-class instruction and remote learning that was offered in June will not be available this fall. Parents have the option to send children to in-class instruction or they can choose Online and Distributed Learning… A third option is homeschooling, which is usually provided by a family member… Moving a student means they will leave their current school.

“For planning purposes, we ask parents and guardians to notify their school to advise if their child is leaving. If there is a decision to later return to their school, they will need to re-apply for a seat in a School of Choice, or re-register in their Neighbourhood school.”

And remember, as the NDP increasingly encourages those who are uncomfortable with classroom learning to pursue online and distributed learning, this comes after the NDP cut $12 million from independent distributed learning (IDL) earlier this spring – the very option that enables children to learn online.
Teachers say the NDP’s approach needs more work on classroom size and parents say they need to know what’s going on so they can make arrangements for their families for this fall. The premier and minister of education have repeatedly changed their minds, with the result being mass confusion for families.

The NDP has been insistent since day one that the priority is getting children back in the classroom safely, but they have failed to put together a plan that provides the necessary comfort to the majority of parents. Instead, the NDP have suggested parents should feel good about sending their kids to school to be part of elementary and middle school learning cohorts consisting of up to 60 students, or part of secondary school cohorts consisting of up to 120 students. That is not good enough.

Moreover, the NDP has placed the majority of the work involved in their plan on the shoulders of B.C.’s 60 school districts. Not only does this pass the government’s responsibility onto others, but it will also lead to disparities between districts.

In a letter to the education minister earlier this week, Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson and Education Critic Dan Davies urged the NDP to implement a series of common sense actions to address the many concerns raised by parents, teachers and administrators.

This included calling for the government to establish a viable province-wide framework that will allow school districts to offer both in-class and distance learning options; implementing programs that allow the growth of distance-learning as they deal with increased demand — including restoring the $12 million that was cut from IDL schools; ensuring that every child who needs one has an appropriate electronic device for learning; and guaranteeing that the appropriate resources and learning delivery models are available so that children with diverse learning needs do not fall behind.

Assurances like these are what B.C. parents need during this time of uncertainty. The minister of education has had five months to plan for a safe return to school — time that could have been spent putting together a comprehensive strategy that takes into account safety, available resources, hybrid learning, timing and the input of teachers and parents. Frustratingly, it’s now quite clear that this did not happen. However, it’s not too late.

Everyone wants a smooth and safe return to school this fall. It is time for the NDP to put a province-wide education restart plan on the table in which B.C.’s families can have confidence. Anything short of this is an abdication of responsibility and failure of leadership by the NDP government.

Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson.

About Mel Rothenburger (8896 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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