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Catholic board scraps plans to switch to hybrid model for elementary

Any future parent requests to switch students from in-class to remote or vice versa will now be put on a wait list, only to be accommodated if space permits
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The Catholic school board has listened. 

Due to parent, teacher, union and board feedback, elementary students in the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board will not be switching to a hybrid model during this school year and the virtual elementary school will be maintained through June 2021, trustees heard during their meeting on Wednesday night.

However, to deal with the realities of that change, parents are now locked-in to the choices they’ve made for their children for the rest of the school year, with any requests for a change between in-person and remote learning being added to a wait-list for accommodation only if space permits.

“I’m very happy we’ve come to this decision and it’s going to be until June, which makes it consistent. Thank you for all your work,” said Barrie trustee Maria Hardie to superintendent of education Kim Weishar.

According to a staff report presented to trustees at their Nov. 4 meeting, Weishar explained the pressures that led to the board initially making a decision to switch to a hybrid model.

Weisher said the decision to move forward with virtual schools back in August was based on information gathered from families when COVID case numbers were low. With case numbers increasing along with the demand from parents to switch their children from in-class to virtual, the writing was on the wall.

After the school board made an announcement on Oct. 28 about the switch, there was outcry from parents, teachers, unions and some trustees about the decision.

Due to the outcry, staff went back to the drawing board to compile the feedback and present it to trustees Wednesday night.

According to Weishar’s new report presented on Wednesday, more than 1,000 requests to switch between in-class and remote learning options have been accommodated by the board.

“In order to accommodate the ongoing requests to switch modes of learning, both the (virtual) and face-to-face schools will move to a wait-list system where requests will be accommodated on a case-by-case basis where there is availability,” Weishar wrote in her report. “There will no longer be two large-scale transition points in February and April.”

The virtual elementary school currently has 3,258 students.

Bradford-Innisfil trustee Jeanny Salmon asked about technologies.

“Is the expectation of the board to be providing technology for students?” asked Salmon.

Suzanne Olimer, superintendent of business and finance, said around 1,000 Chromebooks have been purchased and parents requesting technology should do so through their home schools.

“We will address those needs as they arise,” said Olimer.

Trustee Carol Corriveau-Truchon, who represents the Muskoka area, asked about privacy and security concerns of the hybrid model.

“I know you’ve said it will be addressed, when do you expect to have some information on that?” she asked.

Weishar said the board has already started research on the subject, including looking at legislation and solutions from other boards.

“I think it’s really looking at, what are our expectations of parents and students in terms of behaviour, and making sure we have clear responses for when those expectations aren’t being met. Education is important too,” said Weishar. “They might not understand there should be a dress code or shouldn’t be people walking in the background.

"That’s an ongoing process, it’s not going to end with one communication piece," she added. 

Weishar said a report with clear guidelines for parents and students would be back to trustees and approved before Christmas.

At the end of her report, Weishar addressed long-term plans for the board that go beyond June 2021.

“It has become abundantly clear that COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts on education and society in general. It will be necessary to plan a start in September 2021 that addresses what we have learned throughout this challenging time,” she wrote.

Weishar noted that a working group will be struck with key stakeholders to prepare an initial report and plan for September 2021, which will be brought back to trustees at their Feb. 24 meeting.