Cowichan Valley School District. (Submitted)

Parents upset with loss of distance education program

School district says program being redesigned

Some parents in the Valley are taking exception to the plans by the Cowichan Valley School District to end one of its distance-learning options.

The Remote Learning Transition Program was quickly set up at the beginning of this year at the request of families who wanted to have a program that would allow them to stay attached to their home school as opposed to the Valley’s longer-term, district level, Distance Learning program.

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Robyn Gray, the superintendent of SD79, said the RLTP was designed to be short term and to help families transition to other learning options.

She said in letter to parents sent home on Nov. 20 that the RLTP will end with the beginning of the district’s winter break, Dec. 18.

The letter asked parents to select from three learning options that parents had bypassed in September, instead opting for the RLTP, and giving them until Dec. 1 to make a decision.

“Our principals and vice principals are reaching out to families to gather information on which learning option they would like to choose (in-class, blended or distance learning), or if they feel that the current offerings do not suit their needs,” Gray said.

“We are looking to redesign the RLTP program into a long-term program that will be sustainable for the district and offer exceptional learning opportunities for students. No family will be asked to return to in-class instruction if they are not comfortable with that. There will always be options for them.”

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But news of the current program ending has come as a shock to many parents who are questioning why it’s being dropped now, with some even indicating they were never informed the program would conclude until later in the year.

The parents acknowledge the school board is making an effort to bridge the gap, but they they were not informed of the potential option to have this program redesigned, so they are feeling the pressure to have to select an option from only those presented.

A vocal group of parents resistant to the idea of the program ending for a redesign have started a petition – raising almost 400 signatures just this past week, asking for the current program to continue.

“Many of us selected this program because we were told we could decide to transition our child back to the classroom when we were ready and there was a natural break,” said concerned parent Joel Adams from Maple Bay.

“Now is not that time, not when (COVID-19) cases are high like this, but we don’t seem to have a choice any longer.”

Ashley Henderson, a parent of a child at Maple Bay Elementary School, said she thinks it’s important to support those students who can stay home and reduce the class sizes to do so, and pulling the program in the middle of a second wave of the pandemic just doesn’t make sense and has added unneeded stress to all involved.

“We chose this program to stay connected with our school and to have that mental health piece of connection to our child’s friends and teacher while still keeping our family safe,” she said.

“I feel in limbo as none of those choices work for my family,” added Rhiannon West, a concerned parent from Crofton.

“What works is what’s in place now. I thought I had till next September to revisit the idea of my children going back, but now I feel like I’m being bullied into choices that I feel are not in the best interests for myself and many families. There’s more cover restrictions and cutting this program and forcing us back to class part-time or full-time will not happen with us.”

Mike Russell, the district’s communications director, said the district is aware there are a few families who have been vocal in their thoughts on the winding down of the Remote Learning Transition Program, but some of the information they are sharing is incorrect.

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He said the facts are no family will be asked to return to in-class instruction if they are not comfortable with that, and there will always be options for them.

Russell reiterated Gray’s comments that the RLTP was designed to be short term and to help families transition to other learning options, and the district is working hard to ensure there are learning options for every family.

“We know that a majority of the families in this program want a distance-learning type option and we want to ensure that the learning options we offer are personalized to needs of the students,” he said.

“We are still carefully monitoring what is happening around the province and are constantly assessing our programs and what they deliver, and looking at learning options that will best serve our communities.”

– with a file from Don Bodger.

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