British Columbia

What to expect as B.C. students return to virtual classrooms

With spring break coming to an end, students, parents and teachers are preparing to adapt to an education system that is shifting to a virtual environment with the cancellation of in-class learning.

Meal programs are expected to continue with 'creative approaches' to help vulnerable children, families

About 2,000 schools were shut down in B.C. because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as spring break nears an end, districts are scrambling to develop a virtual education system. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

With spring break ending this weekend, students, parents and teachers are preparing to adapt to an education system that is shifting to a virtual environment.

In-class learning at B.C. schools was suspended indefinitely by the province on March 17 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

School districts across the province have been making announcements and providing guidance about what families can expect, but it's still a work in progress, according to some administrators.

Many teachers are expected to return to work at their schools or work from home on Monday, and students should receive direct communication from their teachers about what to do. 

The Ministry of Education says meal programs for vulnerable students are to continue. 

'Patience'

Surrey schools superintendent Jordan Tinney sent a video message to families saying teachers have had little time to shift from in-class education to virtual learning.

"We really need your patience in Week 1," he said.

Many staff across the province have been working over March break to prepare, but the priority so far has been safety for students, families and employees — and supporting the children of essential workers along with vulnerable students.

Surrey high school teacher Lizanne Foster says another top priority for teachers right now is assessing what families need, such as computer access or an internet connection, so all students can access lessons from home.

Tinney said Monday will be the first opportunity teachers and school district staff have to access resources and figure out how to design a new education system.

He's telling families to expect to hear from their school by the end of day Tuesday with initial learning plans.

Teachers to keep distance at schools

A similar adjustment period is being set up in Vancouver.

Superintendent Suzanne Hoffman sent a message to families in which she said teachers will attend schools in small groups this week to pick up any resources they may need.

By midweek, staff will begin to reach out to students and families to determine whether parents will need to pick up any educational materials from the school.

A schedule for picking up those items will then be established to ensure people practise physical distancing.

After this, teachers will start to plan how to deliver the rest of the year's curriculum virtually.

"[It] will take time," said Hoffman.

The Burnaby School District says it's taking a similar approach, noting the Ministry of Education has asked school districts to have learning opportunities in place no later than mid-April.

The province says essential workers who need care for school-aged children should contact their principal — not take children to school on Monday.

At the direction of the public health office, the Ministry of Education says schools will stay open with limited staff to support children whose parents are essential front-line workers.

"Services and learning supports to students can and must be provided in a safe manner for those families whose parents work in critical roles," Minister of Education Rob Fleming said in a statement.

Keep Learning B.C.

On Friday, the province launched Keep Learning B.C., a new at-home education resource website for parents and caregivers who will likely be helping with their child's education for the remainder of the school year.

The province has also answered several frequently asked questions in an eight-page document that outlines the work that has been done so far and what is coming.

Meal program will continue

The Ministry of Education has asked school districts to ensure that school meal programs continue, while following public health orders.

The province has asked schools to prioritize families in need and to use "creative and innovative" approaches to deliver the service as the pandemic continues.

Some meals may be prepared for delivery to families, rather than having children come to schools. That is the plan so far in Vancouver, where Hoffman said staff will contact students who depend on school meals. 

"Those students, who are among the most vulnerable, will be able to pick up a meal at their school," said the latest update from the VSB.

The province is also encouraging schools to work with community partners. For example, it says the ​​​​​Cowichan Valley School District is working as part of a community task force to deliver groceries and prepared meals to some families.

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