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Yukon parents concerned about 'serious consequences' with part-time high school plan

Yukon's school council association says it's concerned that Whitehorse high school students will only be in class part-time this year, saying government should have consulted parents before making the decision.

'This is not an acceptable new normal to me,' says Whitehorse mother

The Yukon government announced earlier this month that Grade 10 to 12 students will only go to class part-time in Whitehorse, in an effort to keep student numbers low and maintain physical distancing. (Diego Cervo/Shutterstock)

Angela Drainville says at-home learning during COVID-19 was "terrible" for her teenage sons, causing massive stress and dropping grades.

"I've seen, even in my son's friend groups, an uptick in anxiety and depression," said Drainville, who lives in Whitehorse. With parents away at work, she worried more teens were drinking or starting to use cannabis.

The Yukon government announced earlier this month that most Grade 10 to 12 students will only go to class part-time in Whitehorse, in an effort to keep student numbers low and maintain physical distancing. Elementary school students and high schoolers outside Whitehorse will go to school full-time, with enhanced safety measures.

With the new school year looming, Drainville is deeply concerned that Whitehorse high school students will only be in class part-time — and she wants the government to spend money to make full-time school happen.

"That could result in some pretty serious consequences, socially, academically and emotionally for those kids," she said.

"This is not an acceptable new normal to me."

Drainville started a Facebook group for Yukoners concerned about the plan for Grades 10 to 12, which now has around 300 members. 

Not being in school will put Whitehorse teens at a disadvantage, she said, while widening the socioeconomic gap between families who can hire tutors or stay home with their kids.

"Education is an essential service and it needs to be prioritized," she said.

School starts up in a few weeks for students. Guest host Elyn Jones spoke with a parent who thinks the Yukon Government needs to change its plan for high school students. 10:14

Following safety measures, says government

The Yukon Department of Education says it's following health and safety guidelines from the chief medical officer amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The plan will "ensure that our schools are supporting safe spacing, managing traffic flows and limiting the mixing of student groups in some of our [larger] Whitehorse high schools," said spokesperson Kyle Nightingale. He said it will also help keep schooling consistent.

Angela Drainville, second to the left, and her husband and sons. Drainville is calling for high school students to attend class full-time. (Submitted by Angela Drainville)

Nightingale said high school students will have support while not in class, including supervised study halls for kids who can't go home, and access to technology.

The department said it's not planning on increasing funding for schools this year, although it will address needs if they come up.

At his weekly update Wednesday, Premier Sandy Silver did not indicate when high schools might go back to class full-time, but said officials will continue to monitor the situation and "maximize" face-to-face education.

Parents not consulted, says association chair

Sandra Henderson, chair of the Association of Yukon School Councils, Board and Committees, said parents and councils were not adequately consulted on the plan. Their association had three meetings with the department, she said, but was told the plan on the same day as the general public.

We've kind of been left in the dark with a lot of stuff.- Fiona van den Hoorn, mother

The government said the part-time plan was developed with high school principals.

The department sent out a survey to parents after the new plan was announced.

"Our biggest concern is that kids are safe, but their education is not compromised," said Henderson. "If we have to hire extra resources ... to make sure kids get what they need, then that's what it should be."

The Chair of the Association of Yukon School Councils, Boards and Committees has concerns with the Yukon's back-to-school plans. Sandra Henderson spoke with guest host Elyn Jones. 9:14

Even under the current plan, she said schools will need more funding this year to meet student needs.

The Department of Education says it will ensure all schools have what they need to meet the guidelines, including "reassigning or adjusting funding based on the priority of supporting the health and safety of students and staff."

Students at F.H. Collins in class 2.5 hours a day

Parents at F.H. Collins Secondary School received a draft plan this week suggesting students would be in class for less than 2.5 hours a day. Some teens would be in class every morning while the others go in the afternoon.

Teachers will also use virtual teaching methods in addition to in-class learning, the plan said.

Fiona van den Hoorn still has questions about how school will work. Her children usually take a 45-minute bus ride home to Mount Lorne, while she and her husband work full-time. 

"We've kind of been left in the dark with a lot of stuff, " said van den Hoorn.

Fiona van den Hoorn says parents haven't received much information on how the upcoming school year will work. (Submitted by Fiona van den Hoorn)

"It's important they get that education," said van den Hoorn. "We're definitely not impressed with the way it's been handled."

The government says finalized plans will be released by Aug. 12.

Yukon currently has no active cases in the territory, but health officials have warned people to be vigilant. 

Whitehorse mom Drainville says the current plan isn't appropriate for a place with no community spread, given the risks of keeping students home.

"We don't know that a vaccine's around the corner," she said. "I am fearful that if we don't deal with it right now ... then this is just going to be something that is ongoing year over year."

About the Author

Laura Howells is a journalist from Newfoundland who is currently reporting in Whitehorse. She most recently worked as a digital reporter and radio producer in Toronto. You can reach her at laura.howells@cbc.ca and follow her on Twitter @LauraHowellsNL.

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