Federal funding will help alleviate the financial stress points in the Central Okanagan School District’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as classes resuming on Sept. 10.
Education Minister Rob Fleming confirmed Thursday that funding previously announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be divided up among B.C.’s school districts on a student per capita basis with school boards given initial autonomy to spend on remote learning and in-class staffing, technology and school safety measures.
For the Central Okanagan School District, that will mean an initial $4.1 million disbursement, with a second of equal amount anticipated for January 2021.
Kevin Kaardal, school district superintendent/CEO, said the funding boost was anticipated but was still a relief to see confirmed.
“It will support us in what we are trying to do for remote learning, in-class instruction and further enhance our safety procedures,” Kaardal said.
He said how that spending will specifically break down will be decided by the board of education at some point this month.
Kaardal explained the district anticipates about a 99 per cent in-class registration based on school principals’ responses from parents, with about 200 students expected to be enrolled in remote learning, the eSchoolBC program option enhanced by the school district for this fall.
Parents will have until Nov. 13 to decide whether to place their kids back in class or leave them in a remote program, which will place them fourth in priority for getting back into their catchment school for the 2021-22 school year.
Kaardal said the Nov. 13 date gives students and teachers a chance to settle in for the remainder of the school year with no further student return disruptions.
He said the catchment school return policy reflects a reality of waitlists that exist for some students to attend schools outside their catchment area because their catchment area school is full.
It is an equity issue for the school district, Kaardal said, as it’s hard to justify holding a spot in a full capacity school for a student in remote learning while another sits on an enrolment waitlist.
“We have tried to come up with a policy that is fair to everyone. We are trying to give everyone the chance to feel safe about sending their kids back to class,” he said.
The safety of staff and students remains a guiding principle for the school district and “we have upped our game to make sure we reduce any risk,” Kaardal added.
“The tireless response from our staff, our leaders and managers has been incredible in planning (reopening of schools),” he said.
“Some of our staff have given up their holidays this summer to ensure we are prepared to face the school year, our trustees have given up a bunch of their time this summer with many extra meetings….to provide guidance and listen to the community so it’s been a real team effort.”
“There is still much to do to yet as we begin as our plans become operational so we just ask for patience from everyone. Safety is our number one priority in terms of the pandemic and the health and wellbeing of our students both from a health and education perspective.”