I don't reply to every email and I certainly don't write essays like this every time (I used to, and then I burnt out). Here's one I particularly enjoyed writing because I like: 1) gathering and outlining facts and 2) adding nuance to a situation that otherwise seems straightforward.

On May 7 2020, –– writes:

Chair Fraser, Superintendent Hoffman, Ms. Mooring and Minister Fleming,
I urge the Vancouver School Board and the BCTF, with the support of the Province, to work together to move to Stage 3 Education, as outlined in the backgrounder press release information issued by the Province on May 6.  In Stage 3 there is "in-class learning for kindergarten to grade 5 on a part time basis".

My children are in [a VSB elementary school].  Including Spring Break (when all alternative activities like camps were cancelled), my children have been out of school for almost two months (8 weeks).  Based on the information provided by the Province on May 6, it seems entirely reasonable that the VSB implement Stage 3 by the end of May.  My children should not have to wait another 3.5 months to return to school. The online learning is not adequate for their social and emotional learning (it is not the academics I'm worried about).

My husband and I are both working full-time and full-on (supporting responses to COVID-19 in other areas of the public sector); we are not able to stagger our work hours/days.  We try to provide as much support as possible, but for much of the day they are on their own. This results in far more screen time than appropriate. We live in a small home on a tiny lot - so we have no yard.  Our children can only get exercise when we are able to accompany them to the park, which typically doesn't happen until after 5pm.

They are in French Immersion and I am concerned, particularly for my child in Kindergarten, that he is missing exposure to French at a critical developmental age. Above all, they are desperately bored and miss their friends.  

On April 3 the Ministry of Health issued Public Health Guidance for K-12 School Settings, providing guidance on how schools can operate safely for staff and students.  This was over a month ago.  There are many options that could be quickly implemented. It appears that parents and students are bearing the burden of your collective inability to figure this out.
I would very much appreciate information regarding when the Vancouver School Board will move to Stage 3,  as outlined by the Province.
Regards,

––
Vancouver BC


On May 13 2020, Lois writes:

Dear ––,

Thank you for your email. I started writing a reply last week and kept adding information as they seem to arrive daily, and am finally deciding to send it now. Some stuff below may be old news to you, and there may already be new news by the time you read this. Chair Janet Fraser will respond on behalf of the board but I wanted to reach out personally if for no other reason than that our kids are of similar ages (mine are in gr 1 and 3). Thank you for making the sacrifices to make it work so far, especially as it impacts the well-being of your children, and thank you for your work in supporting the pandemic response.

A couple of clarifications:

  1. According to the MoE we are still in stage 4. Based on my understanding the plan is to move to stage 3 by early June, even though the premier seems to suggest an even earlier start. Last I heard we’re sorting that out with the Ministry. We’ve begun planning and will fill in dates and details as they get clarified.
  2. The health guidelines from April 3rd were meant to provide guidance for stage 4. School districts are waiting for the province to provide further guidelines for the k-12 sector for stage 3. These guidelines are expected before the end of this week, possibly even sooner because districts have been pushing for it. The Apr 3rd document doesn’t say Stage 4 because at the time when it was put out, they haven’t yet defined the stages.

Some info that may further inform your opinion:

  1. MoE is requiring districts to create a safety plan for stage 3. They will be providing us with a template, so the district is working at a general level and will be filling in the blanks when the template is available.
  2. The district is working on a plan that allows students to opt-out of in-school learning because not everyone will want to or will be able to send their children to school. (Like Quebec)
  3. The district is also working on a plan for returning to stage 1 by September (our ongoing assumption until the announcement last week). So there are a few plans being worked on concurrently, while bearing in mind the need to switch between phases quickly with minimal disruption to student learning if there is a second wave of the virus.
  4. The general directive thus far for K-5 students is about half-time in-school instruction, and while there, they are to minimise contact. (I’ve personally found half time to be still not ideal and sometimes more disruptive than none, but it could still be helpful to many). Specifics are still coming.

Our priorities so far: 1) health and safety of staff and students – which encompasses childcare for essential workers and food security for vulnerable students; 2) continuous learning – in particular the distribution of devices to families in need and the mass on-boarding of staff/families onto digital platforms; 3) ongoing district work such as budget, staffing, and facilities planning. You may or may not be pleased to hear that staff at all levels have been firing on all cylinders in getting us to where we are – our collective ability in figuring it out is maximised but still may not live up to your standards, which is no doubt very frustrating.

An example of a tricky logistical issue: we’ve sent home many of the devices so that students can continue learning at home. Many of our schools no longer have any “in stock.” We will need to provide schools with some guidance on how to manage device use at school. Are children expected to bring their own devices, or just to do without while at school (possible for part time instruction, esp for the younger children, but trickier for the older grades)? If we need to bring in more devices or move them around the district, how do we do that quickly and equitably?

Lastly, you may or may not be assured that many children are often able to learn French at an older age and typically they are virtually all caught up by high school; this is the statistic that drives our offering of Late Intensive French Immersion at grades 6/7. I knew many friends in high school who spoke French beautifully from Late Immersion, and I can offer stats and anecdotes to support that. However, you will probably also find stats and anecdotes to the contrary, including how my two children cannot seem to learn Cantonese, my own mother tongue. The district tries to provide the best education environment possible while keeping in mind fairness and equity, and sometimes that does mean that students with more needs are given more attention.

Thank you again for writing. I hope I provided some clarity and nuance even if I brought no good news. If you would like to further this conversation please don’t hesitate to reach out again.

Take care,

Lois