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Coronavirus: Okanagan parents worried about childcare as B.C. closes schools

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Premier John Horgan answers questions about the status of daycares and how B.C. families will take care of young children after the announcement Tuesday of indefinite school closures for K-12 classes – Mar 17, 2020

Nicole Cadman is one of thousands of people across the Okanagan facing uncertainty about the remainder of the school year.

The Penticton woman looks after her grandson, and the government’s indefinite suspension of in-class instruction at all K-12 and independent schools has her worried.

“My daughter is supposed to be working full-time as well, and I do too, so we will have to get together and work out a game plan,” Cadman said.

Education Minister Rob Fleming made the announcement on Tuesday in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Students are already on March break, but the announcement left caregivers, including Cadman, wondering how they will still be able to work, while keeping their children or grandchildren at home, once that ends in two weeks.

“I think families are going to have to start sharing each other’s kids,” Cadman said.

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Meanwhile, Okanagan school districts are scrambling to bring in remote instruction.

“There’s been some talk about going online, it’s a lot easier for the senior grades than the younger ones, but that is very much an option,” said Okanagan-Skaha school board chair James Palanio.

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He said he’s awaiting further information from the ministry, and hopes for a consistent method for all B.C. school districts.

One of the biggest challenges will be to continue to support children with special needs, he added, and vulnerable students who rely on school supports and meal programs.

“This is uncharted territories, so we are trying to do our best,” he said. “It’s so fluid, it’s so evolving, it’s like a really bad dream.”

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Kevin Kaardal, superintendent of the Central Okanagan district, said staff are also looking at going digital.

“It’s early in the game right now, but we have certainly some technology options that support us — everything from Google Classroom to our distant learning programs,” he said.

READ MORE: B.C. daycares to stay open, but situation could change quickly: Horgan

Kaardal worries about students’ access to technology at home, and continuing to support children with higher needs.

He said staff are also figuring out how to continue to provide 2,000 students with meal programs.

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“There may be models where we deliver from particular sites and people are able to pick up.”

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The superintendent noted the significance of a global health pandemic to close schools indefinitely.

“Never in my 35-year career and I think the fact that the borders are now essentially closed to everything but commercial traffic, or business traffic, tells you that this is unprecedented,” he said.

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Despite the indefinite suspension of class, every student will still receive a final mark, and all students on track to move to the next grade will do so in the fall, the education ministry said.

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For grades 10 and 11 students, graduation assessments will be postponed. Every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12 this year will graduate.

The ministry also said it will ensure Grade 12 students who have not yet completed a numeracy assessment and who are otherwise on track to graduate are able to meet this graduation requirement.

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