For the first time since the start of March’s spring break, a majority of Langley students are returning to public school classrooms this week.
Schools opened their doors from Kindergarten to Grade 12, with full instruction starting Monday, Sept. 14 following two days of orientation for students in the new realities of education under COVID-19.
After a frantic late summer with parents clamouring for information, things have quieted down in the last week, said Alicia Rempel, president of the Langley District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).
“I think it’s because a lot of fears were alleviated,” she said.
It wasn’t until late August and early September that districts, including Langley, were able to release detailed plans about everything from how school buses will operate to how classrooms will be set up for the return of students.
Rempel mentioned an article and video by the Langley Advance Times that went online last week, showing the set up at Lynn Fripps Elementary.
“I think that was really reassuring for a lot of families,” said Rempel.
The large scale of the return marks a major change from June, when the province briefly opened schools. Langley saw about 6,200 students, less than a third of the total in the district, return for a few weeks.
Although the majority of students are returning, about 17 per cent of families opted to avoid a full return to class.
The return to school survey conducted before the Labour Day weekend found that 83 per cent of families opted for in-class instruction, out of the approximately 90 per cent of families who responded.
Those students will be part of cohorts, also known as learning groups, that will include up to 60 people – including students, teachers, and support staff – at the elementary level, and up to 120 at the secondary level, though many are expected to be somewhat smaller.
Cohorts are to remain physically isolated from one another.
The large number returning may reflect concerns about the impact of the long pandemic isolation on children.
An Abacus Data survey of Canadians released this week found a majority of Canadians have concerns about long-term impacts on children.
The poll found that 70 per cent of people thought the COVID-19 pandemic was having an impact on education, 66 per cent thought it was having an impact on mental health, and 66 per cent also thought it was impacting social and emotional development.
The next largest choice for parents after a physical return was the “transition and support” option, at 11 per cent. Although the option is not full distance learning, it is to be conducted mostly via computer-supported instruction, with parents asked to shoulder more responsibilities.
Even that option involves students returning to school. They’re back for up to four afternoons a week.
Superintendent Gord Stewart encouraged people to read the district’s Transition Support Model plan, available on the district website to help make informed decisions about back to school options for their children.
“These documents will also assist teachers and staff; getting them familiar with our new normal in education,” he said.
“Our start to the school year will look and feel very different. What remains the same, is the ongoing hard work and dedication from all our staff.”
“Parents need to dedicate substantial time for support and guidance in this model,” the district’s online explainer about the program noted.
Details about how the transition option would work were released on Sept. 3, after parents had already been asked to choose which option they wanted.
Another four per cent of local families chose a distributed learning option, which would mean the U-Connect program for students from Kindergarten up to Grade 9, and the Langley Education Centre for those in Grades 10 to 12.
Those long-standing programs already mix at-home learning with a few days in school each week.
Two per cent of families opted for homeschooling.
The district included an explanation for why there is no online-only option among those given to parents:
“Our district and the Ministry of Education believe in-class instruction is best for most students in helping them achieve success,” the plan said.
“In line with the Ministry of Education’s direction, our hope is for students to attend full-time, in-class or gradually transition to full-time face-to-face instruction.”
Also, options to move back and forth between the transition learning and regular in-class option will be limited.
Families that opt in to the transition program won’t be able to return to in-class until Dec. 18 for elementary and middle school, or Nov. 17 for secondary students.
The district is looking at moving more students into U-Connect or the Langley Education Centre for families that choose not to return to full in-class instruction.
“Our staff will continue to consult with families and assess the interest for a full-time online learning option for Kindergarten to Grade 9,” the plan said.
Families who pick the transition option will remain enrolled in their regular neighbourhood school, but their teacher for online work may be from a different school and be working with students from multiple grades.
However, come the new year, the district will no longer allow students who continue with the transition model to keep their registration at their existing school.
“Students wishing to remain at their existing school are expected to attend full-time in-class instruction by Jan. 5, 2021,” the district’s plan stated.
Any student taking the transition learning plan will have to supply their own computer and internet connection.
The plan won’t apply to every school – due to its unique nature, transition learning won’t be offered through Langley Fine Arts.
“Langley Fine Arts is adapting their school specific model to support all students,” said the district’s plan.
While the district offers different programs
The majority of other districts around the Lower Mainland are offering similar transition plans.
Some districts have modified the plan and are offering a full out-of-class option.
In Chilliwack, the Learn From Home: Transition Support is based on zero attendance at schools in the short term.
Students are to learn remotely, with an assigned teacher, who will not be their regular classroom teacher. The support will focus on language arts, math, and core competencies.
The program is expected to be temporary.