The Abbotsford school district is moving to a quarterly schedule for high schools, instead of two semesters, in September.

School district’s transition program to ‘cease to exist,’ despite parent petition

Parents to be given choice between full-time school or full-time online learning

More than 300 people have signed an online petition to try to convince the Abbotsford School District to maintain its transition schooling program. But superintendent Kevin Godden said Tuesday the program will end in January.

The district’s current transition program gives children the ability to blend limited in-school learning with online and home-based assignments and work.

About 1,000 students are enrolled in the program, which was created in the fall to provide options to parents who were wary about sending their children to school during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Students participate in classroom-based learning for part, but not all, of the week.

Last week, parents of those students received a survey asking them to select one of four potential options for schooling in the fall. Those options – face-to-face instruction in January, homeschooling, “hospital homebound” learning,’ or enrolment in an online program – didn’t include continuing with the transition program.

A petition created by Sabina Billo hailed the program and its teachers and asked the district to continue with transition learning.

“We have been so fortunate to be assigned the most amazing teachers for this program who understand our children’s needs socially/emotionally and cognitively,” the petition reads. “They have gone above and beyond for this program, our children and their families. If it was not for them, we would not feel as secure as we do in moving forward with the program the way it has been designed by these teachers.”

Billo, who has organized like-minded parents through Facebook, told The News the program succeeded in allowing students to receive in-classroom learning while mitigating the safety concerns from parents. She said most students wore masks and that she was confident the families of other children in the program had appropriately reduced their contacts and likelihood of contracting COVID-19.

“Because we’re coming from the same like-minded families, we feel more confident sending our children to school,” she said. “Our teachers have been going above and beyond not just for the students, but the families themselves.”

Given increasing rates of COVID-19, Billo and her petition say the transition program should remain in place throughout the rest of the school year.

She said last week’s survey came with little information about plans for the future, including the continuation of the transition program. Parents were also told they needed to complete the survey by Nov. 27.

Some clarity was provided at a school board meeting several days later. On Tuesday, superintendent Kevin Godden said the program would be ending, with parents having the option of either returning their kids to school full-time or enrolling them in an online program.

“In effect, the transition program as it is structured will cease to exist,” he said.

Godden said the transition program was specifically designed to get kids back into school full-time, and must end in order to allow parents who want their kids back in school to follow through with that intention.

“What we have to be able to do is to honour what that program was designed to do, which is to get those kids back,” he said.

Those whose parents choose an online program will have a “blended learning” teacher, Godden said.

“We will pivot those students into an ongoing online program for the remainder of the year, but we must honour the families who are ready to come back to us in January and create some space to them.

“What I do want to assure people is our commitment to keep each child to have an educational program, and that, while we might have to switch the delivery mode and/or the teacher, we are going to ensure we have all these students covered. What we’re looking at is to have a regional program for those families who don’t want to, or are not able to, attend school face to face.”

Godden, though, stressed that he believes online learning can’t compare to in-school instruction.

“I believe the best thing for our kids is face-to-face instruction and while we are improving our blended learning capabilities … there is nothing that beats having a child connected to an adult in a classroom.”

Each school district has formulated their own particular transition program, resulting in very different approaches. In Chilliwack, school officials created a transition program without any in-school learning, but which also aimed to return children to school in January.

But after a survey showed little enthusiasm for kids returning to school, that district has decided to continue with that district’s current transition program until at least March, when funds budgeted for the program are expected to be depleted.

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