By Jenna Cocullo
Schools officially moved classes online this week as the provincial government decided to extend closures to May 4.
As the unprecedented situation has left school boards and teachers still working out the kinks of their new virtual system, one message remains clear, anyone who was on track to graduate does not need to worry.
“Grade 12 students are our priority in the plan,” said Deb Crawford, director of education for St. Clair Catholic School Board (SCCDSB). “No student on track to graduate will be hampered to go on to their post-secondary destination.”
John Howitt, director of education for Lambton-Kent District School Board (LKDSB), said the ministry has asked them to focus on certain areas of study depending on a student’s age group. Younger grades are encouraged to focus on literacy and math, with older grades focusing on social studies and geography. Secondary students will be working on their course credits.
The Ministry of Education is requiring all non-semester students (eight credit courses) to do 1.5 hours of work per course per week and for semestered students (four credit courses) to do three hours of work per course per week.
Howitt said physical education, French and the arts will be cross-curricularly planned and incorporated into other lessons.
Marks are still due on April 23, however, Crawford said the Ministry of Education is in talks with colleges and universities about modifications. The expectation to obtain 40 hours of volunteer work has been waived and any student needing to complete the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test will be individually contacted by their school board.
Both school boards handed out hundreds of electronic devices to elementary and high school students in need. Those without technology can also connect with teachers by phone or they can receive work booklets in the mail.
Howitt and Crawford said that many parents, with multiple children, might have technological shortages and encourages them to reach out.
“Government and school boards are very committed to ensuring students are not set back by COVID-19. There are provisions in place to ensure that graduation will happen. I would encourage students to reach out to their school guidance councillor, principal or class teachers to give them the confidence to continue with post-secondary goals,” said Howitt.
He said currently one of the biggest challenges is trying to support all of their students with unique needs. All students with special needs will still have some sort of access to curriculums and their education assistants, but just not in person.
“Going to their house to work directly with them is not possible right now. We spoke to parents and resource teachers and it will look different in almost every case as it does already in every school.”
In Alberta, education minister Adriana LaGrange, ordered 20,000 layoffs across school boards following the cancellation of in-person classes with the money to be redirected to COVID-19 relief.
Both Crawford and Howitt said that situation has not arisen here yet and have stated that all their teachers will continue teaching online and support staff will continue to support the education
“At this point we are not considering layoffs,” Howitt said. “Our non-teaching staff are involved still in maintaining the facility, directly supporting our teachers and maintaining contact with students. Our IT department is extremely busy supporting the home use of what we normally would do in the classroom. There is reporting and planning for next year that still has to be done.”
The school boards, which are required by legislation to hold 194 days of classes, have already cancelled several days due to teacher’s strikes, snow days and now COVID-19. However, to date, there has been no talk of extending the school year beyond the regularly scheduled academic calendar.
Crawford said there will also be resources available to parents that will help connect them to reliable information about dealing with children during a crisis.
“I understand it is really hard for parents and kids at this time. The important thing is that kids and teachers are going to be healthy. School is so important; it’s home away from home, so a more established routine will really help families cope with this uncertainty,” she said.
Howitt said as they move forward they will continue to work out all the kinks in the system to provide students with the best resources while away from school.
“It will look better at the end of April than at the beginning of April. Learning takes time, even for the adults,” he said.