Parents with students enrolled in the Edmonton Catholic School Division are being asked to make a decision about their children’s learning for the remainder of the school year.
The school division announced Monday that parents have until Oct. 15 to choose between online learning or in-school learning for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.
Originally, the school division told families there would be four opportunities throughout the school year to choose between in-school and online learning. However, the school division said Monday it needs to adjust the initial plan, partly due to the fact the division is experiencing a “shortage of qualified Catholic teachers, especially in specialized programs, as school jurisdictions across the province are all hiring additional teachers.”
“In discussion with our administrators, teachers and in hearing from our departmental support staff, the reconfiguring of staffing and scheduling three more times this academic year would place a tremendous strain on available resources and may have a negative impact on student learning,” chief superintendent Robert Martin said in a media release Monday morning.
Deputy superintendent Tim Cusack told reporters Monday that the district has already hired more than 100 additional teachers to support online learning, and another 100 substitute teachers to provide additional support within schools.
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With the potential that schedules and teachers could change another three times this school year, Cusack said the decision was made in the best interest of students, staff and teachers.
“Scheduling normally takes several months to get things in place for the upcoming school year. When we heard how challenging it was, how much time and investment, late evening and weekend work that our entire team put into getting this ready for families, for students — we realized that having to do it several more times throughout the year really would potentially be disruptive to the teaching and learning,” Cusack said.
“Potentially with three more changes across the school year, it could be the case that the online students might have a different teacher two or three times as we have to reconfigure and reorganize our staffing complement. We didn’t feel that was in the best interest.
“It’s important for us to make sure that students have that continuity of learning, have teachers in place where they can connect and make those relationships.”
The school division said the decision was not made lightly.
“We deliberated, we put a lot of discussion in terms of hearing from our school leadership first and foremost into how can we make sure that we’re managing the continuity of learning moving forward,” Cusack said.
“We realize what we’re asking families to do. But ultimately, this is sourced in making the most stable decision that we can do in terms of supporting the learning moving forward. We don’t want to have to upend classrooms several more times now.”
Cusack said they continue to follow the guidance of the Education Ministry and chief medical officer of health, and should conditions change, they will make changes too.
“Should conditions change, we of course are going to revisit it, just like we’ve revisited this decision,” he said.
“So for now, moving forward, we believe that one more opportunity for families to make a choice, to help us get our teaching complement firmly in place for the balance of the year, is in the best interest of continuity of learning.”
Families enrolled within Edmonton Catholic schools will have access to a link in PowerSchool beginning Monday to make their learning decisions. Decisions must be submitted by Oct. 15 and all staffing and scheduling adjustments will be in place for the start of the second quarter on Nov. 10, the school division said.
“Our goal is to be as minimally disruptive as possible to the continuity of teaching and learning for both students and staff,” Martin said. “Our hope is that, given the circumstances and challenges we are facing, parents will understand why we are reducing the number of opportunities to make a change in learning option to only one more opportunity.”
About 28 per cent of Edmonton Catholic students – about 12,500 kids — were registered for online learning for the first term of the school year.
Edmonton public sticking to quarterly option
The Edmonton Public School Board is sticking to the quarterly approach to online and in-person learning.
On Monday, the school board said it’s now time for parents and students to make their learning decision for the second quarter of the school year, which runs from Nov. 16 to Jan. 29.
Families can log on to SchoolZone and submit their decision for either in-school or online learning. Families have until 4 p.m. on Oct. 19 to make their decision. All families are asked to make their decision, whether they are sticking with their current learning option or switching.
“The family choice deadline plays an important role in ensuring schools have enough teaching staff assigned to both online and in-person classes,” the school board said in a notice on its website Monday.
“Schools and our central office need time to put appropriate staff in place, and to make sure teachers are well prepared and supported with the resources they need to start instruction.”
Earlier this year, the school board said nearly 30 per cent of its students signed up for online learning for the first quarter of the school year.
Once families make their decision for the second quarter, the school board said students will not be able to switch from in-person learning to online learning.
“If families change their minds after the deadline, they will receive work from their classroom teacher to complete at home-they will not be placed in an online class,” the school board stated. “The family will be responsible for guiding their child as they complete this work at home. Then, they may choose online learning for the next quarter.”
If a student wants to shift from online learning to in-person learning after the deadline, families are asked to contact their school principal to find out if there is room in a specific grade.