‘They’ve put parents in a real bind’: Questions linger as 16 per cent of CBE students enrol in online classes

Sarah Bieber poses for a photo in her home. Bieber is the spokesperson for Kids Come First, a parent advocacy group.

Around 16 per cent of students at Calgary Board of Education schools are registered for online learning in preparation for the resumption of classes next week, but uncertainty remains about the quality and fit of the program, parent advocates say.

Parents had until 4 p.m. on Monday to decide

whether to enrol their children

in online courses or allow them to return to in-person classes. The CBE said Wednesday more than 21,000 students were registered for its virtual alternative, called

“hub online learning.”

“These numbers are not final, as parents have the opportunity to withdraw their students prior to the start of the school year,” CBE spokeswoman Megan Geyer said in an email.

“Families who have registered in the hub will receive a confirmation email from their school on Friday with next steps.”

CBE schools are set to open Tuesday for the

2020-21 school year

. Geyer said the district would use a “staggered entry approach” in the first week of September “to allow for a smooth transition back to school.”

“By the end of this week, parents will receive information from their school about staggered entry times for the first week of school,” she said. “Schools will also share their individual school re-entry plans with all parents by Friday.”

But some say the school board hasn’t been forthcoming enough on

specifics of its re-entry plan

, as well as the online alternative it will offer.

Medeana Moussa, executive director of Support Our Students, said details of the virtual learning option have been “very vague.”

“I think parents are concerned that they’re going to be left having to do the bulk of the work,” she said.

“Parents, by and large, want to put their kids in school but there are a lot of concerns. The No. 1 concern is

lack of physical distancing

, particularly in high schools, and there’s also been a lack of communication direct from schools about what specific school plans are.”

Related

Moussa said parents didn’t get enough information to decide whether they were comfortable sending their children back to classrooms before the CBE’s hub learning registration deadline.

“The CBE asked parents to decide whether the hub was for them or the in-person learning was for them before they’ve released their specific school plans and what all of their safety measures are,” said Moussa.

“They’ve put parents in a real bind.”

In an email sent to families of CBE students Wednesday morning, the board shared a

series

of

videos

explaining

health measures

that would be in place when schools reopen for in-person learning next week.

Sarah Bieber, a spokeswoman for the Kids Come First advocacy group, questioned why those videos came two days after the cutoff to register in online classes.

“I thought the timing was a little bit unfortunate in that parents had to make the decision to enrol their kids in online learning by Aug. 24,” she said.

“Kids can withdraw from the hub thing in the next little bit, but they can’t sign up for it now.”

In Edmonton, the public school board is planning for about 70 per cent of its students to return to in-person classes next week, with close to 30 per cent

opting for online classes

.

Bieber said there are still many uncertainties surrounding online learning, including how the CBE’s program will differ from the model it used during the spring, when in-person classes were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That model included “very limited feedback” to families on how their children were doing, according to Bieber, who has kids in grades 4, 7, 8 and 10.

Bieber said students should be required to check in with their teachers, even virtually, to ensure teachers have a proper sense of where each student is at.

“For at least two of my kids, there was no mandatory meetups with teachers in the spring,” she said.

“The line that kids give to parents then is, ‘I don’t need to meet up with a teacher, it’s not mandatory,’ and it removes a bit of that checking in, that accountability for kids.”

Robbie Babins-Wagner, CEO of the Calgary Counselling Centre, said the upcoming school year has

created stress

and confusion for families.

“Fall is usually a fun time, kids are excited to go back to school for a new year with new teachers and friendships. A lot of this now, for a lot of people, is affected by the many uncertainties,” Babins-Wagner said.

“If anyone has health risks, they’ll be worried about their kids and grandkids being back in school. Parents who are working worry about how to manage again with home school, if they choose to home school, or if they do send them to school and school ends early again, at some point, how they can manage their kids again. Everybody knows now, we’re in this for the long haul.”

— With files from Stephanie Babych and Jason Herring

[email protected]

Twitter:

@SammyHudes

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