Virtual school not feasible: Study

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The creation of a virtual school dedicated to elementary school students within the public school board is not feasible this year, suggests a new study.

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The study, written by an education consultant and commissioned by the Upper Canada District School Board, assessed whether it was possible to offer a separate school for distant learners as opposed to the hybrid model currently proposed.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the board created a learning model that gives teachers a list of students as they normally would, except this year some are in class while others are learning to residence.

This model, according to the study, while unique in its approach, is the ideal way to deliver distance learning during a pandemic.

“Switching from the current model to organizing a virtual school with separate staff, for the remainder of the pandemic, would not be in the best interest of the board,” said the study, written by Phil Dawes. , educational consultant and former superintendent with the Upper Canada School Board.

“It is recommended that the current council model for synchronous distance learning be maintained throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. “

Since students are assigned to a single classroom, regardless of where they choose to learn, the current model allows students to seamlessly switch between learning in the classroom and at home, a characteristic which is not only important for parents but also for operational planning. school board in general, the study suggests.

The study provides several reasons why the current learning model is preferred, the most important of which is that it offers this flexibility to students and parents.

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“It became clear during the pandemic that parents and students are reassured by their ability to move from distance education to classroom instruction,” the study said.

If the board were to create a virtual school with separate staff, the movement of students between distance learning and classroom learning would not be so easy, the study finds, a fact which it says is evident in others. provincial school boards.

“School districts with virtual schools with separate staff find that movement of students between distance classes in virtual schools and regular classroom learning classes can only be accommodated with increases in staff.” , notes the study.

The board can deliver its current learning model with its current workforce without the need to significantly increase recruitment, he added.

This leads to another inhibiting factor identified by the study: funding.

Creating a virtual elementary school with separate staff for 750 K-6 students for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year would cost $ 5,970,930, according to the study. It would require 67 additional staff, including 39 teachers, 15 teacher assistants, five early childhood educators and a handful of other positions.

This number would increase as more students choose to join the dedicated virtual school, according to the study, and if students leave, “staff costs would continue to be in place due to the limited capacity that would be available. for the board to move resources between schools. “

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The study indicates that due to these factors, it is “not within the operational capacity of the board to implement a remote synchronous virtual school with separate staff for the remainder of 2020-2021.”

The study comes just weeks after the six local education unions asked the board to consider the idea of ​​creating a dedicated virtual school.

The unions said the current plan has had “overwhelming negative effects” on teachers as it makes them responsible for four different learning styles: teaching students in the classroom, students learning at a distance via a live stream, students learn digitally but do not watch live, and send home paper materials to students learning offline.

But the study, which directors will discuss at a board meeting on Wednesday, indicates that the current model is the best way forward, at least for now.

“There are no perfect solutions for distance learning during a pandemic. However, the board can rest assured that the current model maximizes flexibility for parents and students without the need for additional staff allocations which, during this time of high volatility, could have serious budgetary implications if not managed effectively. .

The study went on to suggest that a virtual school with separate staff might be something to consider in the years to come.

“Pending the availability of significantly improved ministerial funding in the future to support post-pandemic synchronous learning, it is also recommended that teachers in distance virtual classrooms be staffed separately but in conjunction with regular allocations from regular schools.” , continues the report.

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Perry A. Thomasson