The Abbotsford school district says arranging classes this year was a stiff challenge for staff

The Abbotsford school district says arranging classes this year was a stiff challenge for staff

Many parents changed minds about enrolling kids in Abbotsford’s transition schooling program

District says conversations changed many minds, but some parents blame transition program structure

Less than half of those parents who said in August they didn’t want to send their kids to school full time enrolled their children in the Abbotsford school district’s “transition” program.

Superintendent Kevin Godden told trustees last week that those figures are largely the result of staff convincing parents of the importance of schooling this fall.

“This is all because of phone calls and conversations with teachers and aministraors and counsellors about the options that are available and about the content of our safety plan and the benefit of face-to-face instruction.”

In response to a survey distributed in late August, around 3,000 parents (17 per cent of those in Abbotsford) signalled they would like to enroll their kids in a transition program. But by mid-September, many of those children were back in school, with around 1,200 in the district’s transition program and around 300 homeschooling.

“We wanted to convince parents based on a belief that it wasn’t going to be good for kids,” Godden said. ““What the ministry has told us, and what the minister has said, is that we have to learn to live safely with COVID-19. Schools are more important than COVID-19 is dangerous. We provide a more important function to society and kids, and if we do it safely, we can handle it.”

That message wasn’t the deciding factor for every parent who reconsidered participation in the transition program.

Some parents have changed their mind because, if they didn’t, their children would have had to attend a new school if and when the transition program came to a close. Currently the program is envisioned to conclude in December, although Godden noted plans are fluid this year.

The structure of Abbotsford’s transition program and efforts to maximize class sizes means transition program participants aren’t linked to a specific class in their catchment school, as has occurred in some neighbouring cities.

Instead, transition program students are placed in their own group, with their own designated teacher. That teacher will continue with the groups, once they turn from mostly-online learning, to face-to-face learning. But in several cases students from two different schools are united in the same group and based out of a single school.

When the transition program shifts, all those students will have to attend the school where the program is based – and not necessarily their catchment school.

Godden told trustees the program created split groups in such a fashion in order to avoid having too many grade levels in the same transition class. Instead of having a transition class spanning kindergarten to Grade 5 at a single school, Godden said the district would combine the transition student pools of two different schools create two classes: one of younger kids, and one with older kids.

But faced with having to send their kids to a new school, some parents have found themselves with no options they’ve liked.

“In some cases, when the parents found out … some have said, I don’t like this, I want to go back. And we have honoured that, in some cases,” Godden said.

Dissatisfaction with the structure of the transition program has forced some to totally rethink their children’s education.

One parent told The News she has enrolled her children at a school in Langley instead. Her children had been enrolled at Aberdeen elementary, but she was told would be assigned to a transition teacher based out of Bradner elementary.

Godden said that it’s not feasible to “parachute” children in and out of cohorts, as transition students return to school.

The Abbotsford school district has sought to maximize school classes, and have been granted an exemption to be able to operate cohorts of as many as 66 children. That was done, Godden said, because its 30-student middle school classes are paired with other classes. A cohort expansion was needed, Godden said, because of the staff associated with each class.

Last week, Fraser Health told The News that the Abbotsford school district is the only district in the region to ask for such an exemption. Fraser Health is the province’s largest health authority, and spans from Hope to White Rock.

In both Chilliwack and Langley’s school districts, students in transition programming remain enrolled at their current schools. In Chilliwack, each elementary school student has a spot in a established class in their school to which they can return.

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