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Surrey asking parents for back-to-school wish lists amid COVID-19 fears

Last Updated Aug 26, 2020 at 6:29 am PST

FILE (iStock photo)

Districts have submitted their back-to-school plans to the province for approval amid the COVID-19 pandemic

B.C.'s biggest school district still wants to hear from parents about what options they'd like to see

Surrey is concerned that many anxious moms and dads would like to see more options for at-home learning

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – B.C.’s biggest school district, Surrey, is asking parents what they want to see this September, as anxiety continues to rise for many who are concerned about sending their kids back to class in a few weeks.

In a message to parents, Surrey Superintendent Jordan Tinney says the district has submitted its plans for the return to school to the province, focusing on cohorts and COVID-19-safety.

“And we’ve also really heard a cry from the community around looking for something different. Parents aren’t sure what to do in the current pandemic, and maybe they’re uncertain about sending their child to school, and they’re not necessarily looking for homeschooling or pure distributed learning, they’re looking for something in between,” he says in a video.

In this week's video, Superintendent Jordan Tinney provides an update on the district's proposed back-to-school plans,…

Posted by Surrey Schools on Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tinney says the district is surveying parents to see what, exactly, they are looking for if it were to design a different back-to-school model.

“Because it’s impossible for us to be all things to all people,” Tinney admits, adding, “we don’t know whether people want to send their child one day a week, maybe two days a week, not at all, they don’t want anything to do with the school as far as coming and attendance for the next six months or eight months. So we’re trying to figure that out.”

What the district has gathered so far, he notes, is that parents are looking for something different, while remaining “connected to their neighbourhood school,” with the hopes of eventually sending their kids back.

Pointing to other models being implemented in places like Calgary, Tinney says there are a number of options, however, they all take work and may not translate to Surrey well.

Surrey students are expected back in class for an orientation period in the second week of September. Pupils will begin entering schools on Sept. 10, with the goal of “being fully operational by Sept. 14.”

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“Elementaries are permitted to have cohorts, or learning groups, up to 60, but our classes in elementary are generally smaller than 30 students and sometimes down to 20,” Tinney explains. “So, it really is about the movement of students in the school and how we accommodate that.”

As part of the Surrey plan, students will either be in class full time or take part in a “hybrid” or “blended” schedule, depending on what year they are in.

PAC calls for remote learning options

The Surrey District Parents Advisory Council has already written an open letter to B.C.’s education minister for more remote learning options for families not wishing to send their children into the classroom.

“What we need is the option AND funding for our district to create a remote learning option for our families that do not wish to return to school due to COVID-19 concerns,” the letter reads. “This program needs to be flexible to allow students to remain enrolled in their current school while they attend online learning (like Calgary’s return to school plan) and once safe to do so, transfer back to in-class instruction.”

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Posted by Surrey District Parent Advisory Council on Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The DPAC says providing families with the option of remote learning would “alleviate the overcrowding crisis we are facing right now and would allow for proper physical distancing.”

It notes remote learning would also allow families who want to stay at home to mitigate the risks of catching and spreading COVID-19 to do so without risking the health and safety of others.

“Our families agree that the education of our children needs to continue, but we also agree that it is not worth more than the safety of our families,” the letter reads, adding “mixed messages” from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the provincial Back-to-School Plan are “extremely confusing.”

More federal funding coming

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to announce on Wednesday $2 billion in federal funding for provinces to ensure kids can safely go back to school next month.

The Canadian Press has confirmed premiers were informed of the funding on Tuesday. The $2 billion is in addition to the $19 billion provinces and territories had already been promised to help them cope with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on each of their economies and health care systems.

The $2 billion will be distributed to each province and territory based on how many students they have.

-With files from The Canadian Press