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Les Leyne: Schooling plan looks like an exercise in chaos

A detailed plan was explained last week about how the entire hospital system is being reorganized on the fly to cope if a surge of pandemic cases arrives. It’s a sharp contrast to the B.C.
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B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming

A detailed plan was explained last week about how the entire hospital system is being reorganized on the fly to cope if a surge of pandemic cases arrives.

It’s a sharp contrast to the B.C. school system, which is doing a similar massive emergency overhaul with less evidence of a plan at this point.

Administrators returned to work Monday after spring break but they were the only people in the schools. Teachers were designated as working from home. Everybody has the job of converting the entire now-vacant school system to some kind of online, distance learning model in about two weeks.

It’s hard to imagine how this can be done satisfactorily. Just the fact that they are forced to attempt it brings home again the enormity of the pandemic’s impact.

The best that can be hoped for is some kind of rudimentary instruction program that might be able to handle some of the needs of the most vulnerable families. If they have a computer. If the wifi holds up. If they can find a corner of their homes to settle down in for a few hours. If they can photocopy … If, if, if.

Each district is working from Education Ministry directives.

But they’re still vague at this point. Education Minister Rob Fleming’s open letter last week warned: “This will take us some time to organize and fine tune, so we ask for your continued patience with us as we slowly get this up and running.”

It’s basically up to the districts to make it work.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called it a new form of learning at her Monday briefing and said it will “ensure that not only the children of health care workers, but the most vulnerable children will continue to have the support they need from the education system.”

“It is back to school in a virtual way.”

It looks virtually impossible at the outset, but every effort is underway to make it work.

Henry urged parents to incorporate learning into everyday activities, by writing emails, for instance. Or by doing experiments in the kitchen or the garden.

The Greater Victoria School District, in an open letter last week, didn’t shy away from the problems to be overcome.

There’s the different requirements for the grades, helping special needs kids, the time required to redesign lessons and train teachers and the fact that some families aren’t on the internet. “We also realize that many families are already balancing working from home and taking care of their families so ensuring that their child or children complete online courses can cause additional stress.”

Victoria, and other districts, are taking two weeks to devise a plan fraught with pitfalls.

Even arranging for students to pick up their belongings is complicated.

“This will look different at each school level (elementary, middle and secondary) and may take some time given the number of students in one building,” said superintendent Shelley Green’s letter.

If will take most, if not all, of the two weeks allotted.

Material is available from the ministry, but superintendents all over B.C. are pleading for time to get organized.

Sooke School District is preparing day programs for children of essential workers that may start late next week at a few schools.

Families have to register and the district said: “It is important that essential services workers exhaust all possibilities for the supervision of their children before accessing this possibility.”

Saanich district is in the same fix as the others and the general notice to the school community noted; “Undoubtedly there will be bumps along the way.”

Of all the mad scrambles underway in all parts of the province to hold things together, the one in the school system looks to be the most challenging.

Just So You Know: It takes a lot of searching to find any good news in this on-going nightmare. But here’s a tiny benefit to cling to: With 87 MLAs under virtual house arrest like everyone else, B.C. is saving a bit of money. A report last week on their travel expenses pegged them at $3.2 million over a nine-month period.

That amount will plummet with travel restricted and the legislature adjourned indefinitely.

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