Seventh and eighth graders at École Charleswood School will continue learning at home every other day for the foreseeable future, despite parent concerns the blended model is having negative consequences on their children’s education and well-being.
Trustees in the Winnipeg-based Pembina Trails School Division voted late Thursday to deny a request put forward by a collective of nearly 100 parents to have their middle schoolers return to class full-time within public health guidelines.
Twelve and 13 year olds at the dual-track middle school have been studying remotely on alternating days since Manitoba public health officials downgraded schools to the restricted level (code orange) in autumn.
Concerned about how the schedule is affecting their children’s academic progress, socialization, and sleep, exercise and screen-time routines, a group of families proposed alternatives during a board meeting two weeks ago.
Among their solutions: converting the gymnasium, which is currently used for phys-ed into classrooms, or seeking out available space to hold in-person classes at a local community centre, curling club or church. The group also suggested ways the school could improve remote learning.
"We would like nothing better than to have our kids back in a safe and healthy way, socially distanced," Ted Fransen, superintendent of Pembina Trails, said during a virtual board meeting Thursday.
However, Fransen said the school cannot accommodate the request at present, so senior administration "reluctantly recommended" trustees deny the parents’ proposal.
He noted the school received many notes from parents who were pleased with the current blended set-up, after the Free Press published a report on parent concerns.
Also Thursday, Fransen addressed comments a parent had made two weeks earlier, about concerns the middle schoolers are not getting an adequate education and completing all the curriculum requirements this year because of the blended learning model.
"We take that very seriously and we do trust the judgment of our teachers. We believe they make valid instructional and assessment decisions," he said, adding the division did some data analysis and found Grade 7 and 8 marks at the school have improved over last year’s pre-pandemic report card figures.
One mother of a middle schooler, who agreed to an interview Friday on the condition of anonymity, for fear speaking out would affect how her child is treated at school, said she feels "completely dejected."
"I feel like nobody’s listening, nobody really cares and I feel like we’re just going to tough out the next two months, hope that my kid’s report card is as overinflated as it’s been, and he walks away feeling like he’s succeeded, at least academically, and we regroup and figure out what we’re going to do next year," the woman said, adding she recognizes teachers have been doing their best all year.
The mother said she would like the division to come out with standards for blended learning for the rest of the academic year, since some teachers are doing synchronous instruction while others simply provide students with independent work on the days learners are at home.
The province released minimum guidelines for full-time remote learners at the start of the school year, which require middle-years teachers to provide between seven to eight hours of synchronous instruction and at least 20 minutes of one-on-one real-time conversation per week.
Remote learners in grades 5 through 8 are also expected to complete three hours of independent work each day.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.