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B.C. should push back-to-school date to October, says expert

An expert is proposing B.C. schools push their reopening date to October. She's suggesting five changes ahead of the return to school.

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – Is there enough time to get everything ready for a September start to the school year? One education expert is pushing for a later return to class.

This comes as parent and teacher trepidations run high, with many feeling issues around heading back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t been fully addressed yet.

Educational technology expert Valerie Irvine, who is with the University of Victoria, says parents face too few options and too many risks, and pushing the start of the school year to Oct. 1 would give more time to get things right, including a proper needs assessment with real consultation.


She says most parent surveys are inadequate.

“Some standardized questions should be made across the province, not just, ‘Hey, choose between these options you don’t want,'” Irvine says, adding parents should be asked, “‘What do you want? What do you need?'”

Teachers should also be surveyed, with Irvine saying many she’s spoken with are ready to give online teaching a shot.

“Putting a lot of work in that in being prepared, and they’re ready to try that, where others may not be. And others may need to be online as teachers because of health needs, themselves,” Irvine explains.


All of this, she says, would come from a proper needs assessment, with creative solutions.

“Obviously, we want school to start sooner than later, but there’s so many shifts happening. Even just day to day, I’m getting updates from people on fairly big swings within districts, and there’s a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes,” Irvine tells NEWS 1130.

She admits with all the work that goes into preparing for a return to class like no other, she worries there just hasn’t been enough time for “proper preparation.”

“For providing more flexibility which, I think, was one of the pushes coming from parents and teachers and the message that came out from Minister Fleming last week was that he’s authorized districts can — either within district or within schools — provide flexible options,” Irvine says. However, she says we’re “not seeing common ground on how that’s done district to district.”

‘Not really flexible’

From the start, British Columbians have been told there will need to be some flexibility as we wade through the return to school amid the ongoing health crisis.


The province has repeated the need for flexibility, as have teachers, staff, and parents.

However, that’s not what Irvine is seeing.

“The flexibility that is being described is not really flexible,” she laughs. “If a family is not comfortable or is vulnerable in some way and has concerns about sending their child to their local, catchment school … To say, well if you’re not going to be face to face, then you leave the school? That is where a lot of people are upset.”

In an analysis published in The Tyee, Irvine lists five things that must change before B.C. schools reopen. Along with a more adequate assessment of what teachers and students need, they also include allowing students to choose how they want to learn, remote learning options that are embedded within community schools to keep kids connected with friends and trusted staff, changes to the report card system, and rethinking our current approach to the curriculum at hand.

She says schools should switch to anecdotal report cards rather than grade-based, and that teachers should take advantage of flexibility in the curriculum.


“The curriculum we have today is super flexible, and it needs to be taken advantage of. There’s flexibility in terms of student agency, more co-created curriculum, so shifting to that is really important,” she explains.

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As for report cards, this change is especially important for students in grades 11 and 12, whose grades count a great deal as they look ahead to post-secondary. Irvine says that needs to be supported in “this wild time.”

She says all of this takes time — and there will be snags — so an October start would make sense.

“I think a delay will give a much better foundation for leaping off. I think iterations and improvements will, obviously, be made with every day, week, or month that can come, but starting with a two day notice to adopt major shifts, I do have concerns about it.”


To parents, Irvine says they, too, will need to practice patience.

“And be kind as it’s not going to be perfect off the get-go.”

For more back-to-school news amid the COVID-19 pandemic, click here

-With files from Vanessa Doban