Six COVID-Related Questions to VSB

The Vancouver Board of Education closed down in-classroom instruction when the BC Government shut down all schools March 17, 2020. So far, no date has yet been announced for re-opening classrooms.

It’s a good time to start talking about what public education will look like after the pandemic has passed.

According to UNESCO monitoring, about 70% of the world’s student population (well over 1 billion learners) remain out of school as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic as of May 1 2020. This is down from over 90% on April 25, but the data is clear: the situation is severe and may bring long-lasting change to how we live.

Click on the image to access this UNESCO resource

The Ministry of Education and BC school districts are beginning to talk about re-opening schools yet concerns remain that this Coronavirus will continue to impact education well into the upcoming school year and beyond, with social distancing measures and possibly with localized closures.

Measures are likely to be in place in Vancouver to a some degree because of COVID-19, possibly indefinitely. These may impact families throughout our city. A significant number of VSB students travel across the city to access education for various reasons – district-wide programs or out-of-catchement enrollment, for example. A number of schools have more than 10% international student enrollment while some neighbourhood lack school or have dramatically over-subscribed schools forcing students to travel to their school.

In-classroom learning will eventually be re-implemented at accross British Columbia and we will send our children and learners back to their schools.

QUESTION: What measures or policies are planned for implementation at the Vancouver School District to reduce the exposure of students and staff to the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 to others once in-class instruction resumes?

The Vancouver School Board operates 89 elementary schools and 18 secondary schools, as well as two adult education centres. A school seat requires significant capital expenditures, tens of millions of dollars to build and running an international-student program carries significant costs from ELL teachers and support workers to an additional 80 classrooms in the equivalent of 1-2 secondary schools or 4-5 elementary schools.

VSB reported in its 2019-20 budget that over 1,767 FTE international students were enrolled at all 18 secondary schools, 28 elementary schools and an adult education centre.

QUESTION: Is VSB planning on enrolling international students in the upcoming school year?

In its 2019-20 budget document printed before the COVID-19 emergency, VSB reported that “international student mobility is levelling off, there is market fatigue in the K12 sector as many school districts and private schools in Canada, and other countries, are enrolling students. Locally, Vancouver faces challenges to identify homestay hosts in a competitive and expensive city in which to live.”

QUESTION: Does the school district foresee policy changes that would affect international students enrolling in the upcoming school year?

Because of COVID, the situation is likely to have worsened significantly for 2020-21. Educating students costs more than just running costs.

QUESTION: Does the district see evidence of an upcoming reduction in international student enrollment numbers for the upcoming school year compared to previous years at this time, and when taking CAPEX and OPEX costs of a student in a school seat thatinternational students are using, does it foresee its international-student K12 program being net-income generating?

International student fees provided 5% of the 2019-2020 VSB budget or just under $29 million. That’s just under 1/2 of the district’s total facilities operations and maintenance budget. Reducing such a revenue brings quite an impact.

QUESTION: How will an eventual reduction in international student enrollment numbers impact capacity planning at impacted schools, and does a it provide opportunities for allocation of resources to provide maximum value to learners?

A number of neighbourhood have schools in Vancouver are already under-utilized and facing up to 11% drop in enrollment if international students do not return in the upcoming school year. Other neighbourhoods remain underserved – lacking a long-promised neighbourhood school like Olympic Village, or chronically oversubscribed like King George or Elsie Roy Elementary, Crosstown Elementary, and False Creek Elementary to name the schools familiar to me.

The situation with COVID-19 remains awful at this time and we all have to dig deep and find ways to stay safe and healthy. Too many families have been hit hard by loss of income and by illness as a result of this. Much uncertainty remains today. Many of people are telling me they are deeply concerned by the ucertainty of their financial future as well as of their personal health.

Still, this exraordinary situation does provide an opportunity to re-evaluate how we do schooling in Vancouver. We have a chance to look at how school are serving us and our families today and whether something needs to change. We can look at where schools are located, what size they are, how they are maintained, and who attends them. We can look at how they are beng used and whether there is opportunity to add additional usage to the our schools. Could they host childcare? Could they provide neighbourhood services? Do they meet the public-health needs of students and their families our emerging understanding of COVID-19 tells us exists? Are our current public schools best meeting the needs of learners?

QUESTION: What steps is the district taking today to partner with the Ministry of Education to improve learning and to fund long-overdue school construction and seismic upgrades that could also provide needed stimulus creating jobs to help our economy get back onto its feet at a time British Columbians need it most?

I have shared this page with VSB staff. If they respond, I will update this article accordingly.

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