Virtual School to begin next week for EMSB students with medical exemptions

Global News Files

Around 400 students will be part of the English Montreal School Board’s (EMSB) new virtual school when it launches on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The school is for students from preschool through secondary V (Grade 11), who qualify for online learning with a medical note.

“We decided that it would make more sense to create a virtual school, as opposed to having these students all being taught individually or in groups via their school,” said Mike Cohen, spokesperson for the school board.

READ MORE: Swift reaction from Quebec parents, students to province’s back-to-school plan

Students will have between 10 and 15 hours a week of online teaching, depending on their grade level, and will have anywhere from two to 7.5 hours of individual work, provided by the teacher.

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Teachers will also be available for one-on-ones with students and there will be a team of professionals and special needs consultants to support them as well. In addition, the school will be led by Jessica Monti, the vice-principal at East Hill, and Francesca Magliocca, the vice-principal at Vincent Massey Collegiate.

“We did have a good trial run this past summer, with a de facto virtual school,” said Cohen. “We probably picked up a lot of good things from that experience, which will help us as we move along with this virtual school in 2020-21.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Teen starts petition urging Quebec to act faster to release distance-learning plan

Cohen added that students who may be eligible for the school may have yet to receive confirmation. The school board is still processing requests.

“Some teachers who have a medical exemption could also be reassigned to the virtual school,” said Cohen. “Staffing is still being worked out.”

One parent waiting for confirmation is Alana Hirschberg.

READ MORE: Increase in number of Quebec parents turning to homeschooling: Ministry of Education

Her son, Brett Goldenberg, will be starting Grade 10 this year, but not at Royal West, his regular school.

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Hirschberg’s medical history will not allow him to attend school in person this year. The mother-of-two has undergone eight surgeries over the last year and a half because of a non-cancerous brain tumour and complications related to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). She received a note from her doctor a few weeks ago.

Alana Hirschberg and her son Brett Goldenberg at their home.
Alana Hirschberg and her son Brett Goldenberg at their home. Courtesy Alana Hirschberg

“I feel bad for my kids,” said Hirschberg. “They can’t go into someone’s house even with a maximum of 10 people — they can’t even follow the government’s rules — they have to be so much stricter.”

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Hirschberg said she really wanted to be able to send her son to school this year, but after hearing the province’s back-to-school plan, the risk was just too great.

READ MORE: Quebec students Grade 5 and up will have to wear masks in school hallways but not classrooms

“The minute the masks came off, I just didn’t feel comfortable,” she said, referring to the guidelines in which students don’t have to wear a mask inside their classroom.

“And he was disappointed to be cut off from the world that he knows,” she added.

She’s glad to have the virtual school as an option for her son and is hoping that in terms of the curriculum, it will be as close as possible to his normal school.

“I really hope that the experience online makes him feel like he’s part of a school — part of a school community,” said Hirschberg.