Sylvia Russell, School District 42 superintendent. (Contributed)

Maple Ridge Pitt Meadows school district assessing student needs for virtual education

Teaching special needs students in virtual classroom “complex”

Parents of students in the local school district are learning this week what their children’s education is going to look like amid the COVID-19 crisis.

There are two key areas of focus this week, said superintendent Sylvia Russell.

First, teachers are connecting with families to have conversations about what technologies are in the home and how best to direct district-level supports.

And preparations are also underway to provide on-site child care and educational support for children ofessential services workers – primarily in the health care sector – as requested by the provincialgovernment, Russell explained.

READ MORE: School District 42 provides update on continued learning plan

Regular, weekly communication has been going on with families since the end of February, added the superintendent, and last week the district put up a frequently asked questions page onto its website.

Russell does not know yet if most families are equipped to teach their children from home.

But that assessment is being made.

That is, in part, why check-ins are happening this week between teachers and families.

But the school district is fortunate to have a strong foundation of technology-based resources for students that Russell feels will bode well for everyone in the coming weeks.

READ MORE: B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

“Our experience with the CyberSchool program, the One-to-One Inquiry program and our Distance Learning program gives us an important advantage as we work to shift as a district to a more remote/virtual approach to instruction in this new context,” she said.

Students and teachers will also be able to use the video conferencing app, Zoom, to communicate with one another.

The Ministry of Education announced on Wednesday that they have secured and funded licences for Zoom for all kindergarten to Grade 12 students in public and independent schools across the province.

Zoom is a video app that allows people to hold virtual meetings, webinars and conferences anywhere in the world.

“For educators who choose to offer online learning, Zoom gives them a common, consistent platform to communicate and share lessons with their students,” said the Ministry’s release.

“This will allow consistent access for educators who choose to use it, giving them more ways to communicate with students and parents,” it said.

Russell thinks the opportunity this technology offers teachers is wonderful, but she said, they will be working hard to develop protocols on the app’s proper use so that they can support both staff and families in using the tool effectively.

The licensing agreement does comply with B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to ensure safety and privacy for students, read the Ministry of Education’s release.

And school technology administrators will be able to control permissions and privileges, while disabling unnecessary or inappropriate features.

Students will also be given a unique website address, so they can access their virtual classroom without needing an individual account.

And the Zoom server will be based in Canada, with added encryption to make it a safe platform to learn.

This month educators will be receiving access to the app through their school districts along with simple instructions on how to use it.

In addition, the school board is working on the 2020/21 budget which will be posted for the public on April 15.

School board chair Korleen Carreras was not sure how the current situation is going to affect the budget.

“We received the grants the Thursday before spring break, March 12, and staff have been working through that information and what that looks like for next year,” said Carreras.

“The suggested changes or what that impact will be to our budget will be public on April 15,” she said.

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