Vancouver School Board extends Option 4 online learning until end of academic year
VSB says future of at-home instruction will be determined by course of pandemic, rollout of vaccines
The Vancouver School Board is extending a remote learning option that some parents with health concerns say protects kids' education and their families' safety during the pandemic.
Option 4, also called the Learn from Home Transition Option, allows elementary school pupils to learn remotely while holding their places in their physical schools and programs with an eye to them eventually returning to in-class learning. Online education normally means they would lose those places.
It was rolled out in September as a temporary measure and was most recently set to wrap up March 1.
That meant some parents — particularly those at greater risk of COVID-19 complications — were facing a multiple-choice problem.
Do they send their kids back to in-class learning despite pandemic safety concerns? Or continue with remote learning, but risk losing their kids' places in their schools and choice programs like French immersion?
At a Wednesday evening meeting, however, district staff said Option 4 will be extended until the end of the school year.
"It … allows an opportunity to meet families where they're at with their decision of having their child return to school," VSB associate superintendent Rob Schindel said.
"It does give time for families to make those decisions and also allow schools to continue reaching out to families, make those important connections and maintain those connections with families."
'We get a chance to focus on our kids'
Kyenta Martins, founder of Option 4 Parents of Vancouver, said she was pleased about the extension.
She lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is concerned about how she would fare if one of her kids brought COVID-19 home from their classrooms.
She said she's glad her family doesn't have to make what she believes is a choice between her health and her kids' places at their school.
If push came to shove, she said, she was prepared to move to Vancouver Island to live with her mother while her kids returned to in-class learning.
"It means that we get a chance to focus on our kids and on our kids' education," Martins said Thursday. "I'm going to be able to actually be present with my kids and help them learn."
What about next year?
Schindel said there are currently about 2,600 elementary school students in Option 4. Over 6,000 were in Option 4 in September.
Health and education officials have repeatedly stressed that schools are safe places for kids during the pandemic. While there have been exposure events, transmission is low and there have been very few outbreaks.
Schindel said Vancouver schools are no different with around 91 per cent of students having returned to in-class learning.
"Overall, we've been very successful," Schindel said. "Health and safety continues to be a top priority for the district and for schools."
Martins had been calling for Option 4 to be extended for the duration of the pandemic, not just the current school year. The Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council has echoed that call.
Schindel said it's too early to know if Option 4 will be offered next year. The pandemic's severity and the state of vaccine availability in September are important but unknown factors in that decision.
He said Option 4 parents can expect more clarity in April.
CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.