Slow and steady

I remember the weekend when the decision to suspend classes was made. It was a busy and tense couple of days leading up to March 15 decision as Trustees with Edmonton Public Schools and staff had received hundreds of emails from concerned parents asking us to suspend in-person classes. Metro board chairs pushed hard and shared our concerns directly with Alberta’s chief medical officer of Health as well as the Minister of Education on how in the regulations suggested for schools (ie. no more than 15 people gathered together, more rigorous and regular cleaning) just weren’t feasible.

It was clear to me when the decision was made to cancel in-person classes that it would a return to in-person classes this Spring was unlikely. And here we are eight weeks later with the certainty that there will not be a return to what we once knew until at least September.

That phrase “what we once knew” gives me pause. I, like many people, wonder what life will be like post-pandemic. I wonder what public education will look like come September. I have many wonders about September.

What we do know is this. There are three possible scenarios as laid out by the Ministry of Education for September:

  • Normal school operations are able to resume.
  • Schools are partially re-opened, with some level of restrictions.
  • Teacher-directed at-home learning continues.

EPSB administration, working with the board, are exploring what each of these scenarios could mean for the 105,000 students Edmonton Public serves. We will also be reaching out soon asking families, parents, staff and students what they think. EPSB, like all school jurisdictions, needs to continue to follow the advice of Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health as our public navigates what a re-launch looks like.

Here’s what the government’s re-launch plan looks like. As you can see schools opening are in stage 2. Stage 2 is dependent on stage one going smoothly without additional spikes in cases.

I’ll be honest, I don’t realistically see a return to “normal” school operations by September. As has been made clear by both Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and our own Dr. Deena Hinshaw a return to “normal” will only be possible when there is a vaccine available for COVID-19.

The second scenario is that schools are partially re-opened, but with restrictions. Those restrictions could mean social distancing rules remain in place, which for our classrooms means fewer students per class and fewer kids on buses. There are obvious challenges with the idea of accommodating fewer students given that many of our schools, in particular high schools, are at or over capacity. I am also concerned what our classes and schools look like if staff and students are required to wear masks and adhere to strict protocols around how those masks are used. There’s lots of possibilities under this hybrid scenario which I think will demand lots of creativity, patience and recognition that classrooms and learning will be different than what families and students are used to.

The third scenario is that at-home learning continues. When I think of this scenario, I have to take a deep breath – not just as a Trustee but as a parent of two children at home who are also trying to navigate this new world of “emergency remote learning.” It truly was an emergency response to a rapidly changing global pandemic. EPSB has moved slowly and cautiously with putting learning in place. The one rule all school divisions were given was to give 5 hours of instruction to elementary, about 7 for junior high and about 15 hours for high school students. For some students and families, I know this hasn’t been enough. For others, I’ve also heard that it’s too much. I do know learning has been happening and I also know that any family who needs help connecting with technology or a device to use for school work has been accommodated. If at-home learning continues I believe we need to hear from parents about what’s worked, what hasn’t and talk about solutions going forward. link to covid 19 report

Assessment

I have also been fielding many questions about assessment. Understandably, parents that I have spoken with want to know how their child will be assessed come the Fall and also how gaps in learning be addressed. Administration at EPSB have assured Trustees that measures will be put in place to determine where there are gaps in student’s learning, in the same way that at the beginning of the school year tests are done to ascertain learning loss over the course of the summer.

Parent Voice

I believe strongly in the power of parent voice at all times, but especially right now. Please reach out if you have concerns, suggestions, feedback on the three scenarios and feel free to share your own experience with at-home learning and please, when it comes out – do the EPSB survey.

Further reading

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/social-sector/our-insights/safely-back-to-school-after-coronavirus-closures

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-quebec-school-boards-provide-a-glimpse-of-the-new-normal-in-classrooms/

https://www.edcan.ca/articles/moving-forward-in-the-covid-19-era/

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