If the Eastern Townships School Board, with its schools and centres closed until May 1 at the earliest, can teach the local population anything, it’s how to roll with the punches.
On one hand, it’s business as usual for the upkeep of schools and centres. The board approved a handful of renovation projects. Knowlton Academy’s request for an alcohol permit for a party planned for the end of May was also approved, assuming things will be back to normal by then. The board also adopted a resolution to merge Adult Education at the Brome Missisquoi campus with New Horizons and Distance Education, effective July 1. The goal of the merger, according to interim Director General Michel Soucy, is to share resources within adult ed centres and offer students more opportunities for learning.
On the other hand, the board is currently grappling with how to continue its primary mandate to educate without teachers or students or classrooms.
There are also those old ghosts-Bill 40, staff collective agreement negotiations and elections for new service centre directors that will come back to haunt the board at some point.
On Monday the ETSB got the green light to make teaching modules and learning activities available, but according to Chairman Michael Murray, the issue is how they could be administered.
“We have the means of doing it, but it has to be equitable,” Murray said.
If half a class continued studies, but the other half, because of learning difficulties or lack of internet couldn’t keep up, that would present a challenge when students return to school, the chairman explained.
“We have to keep everybody on the same level.”
“These are very stressful times right now. People need time to navigate this territory,” Murray said, adding that teachers and administrators have been doing a wonderful job of reaching out to the community.
“You have to remember, people have been sent home from work. It’s not a nice situation,” commented ETSB Vice-Chair Joy Humenuik, saying that putting something else on top of all of that would be difficult for some parents. “We’re still in panic mode. We have tech over and above most school boards. At the same time, we don’t want to add on something else to people’s plates that are already overflowing.”
Using any of the resources made available by the ETSB is completely voluntary.
The Record asked how parents without internet could access the learning material. The board replied that parents should not go to schools or the board office. Instead, they can call the office (819) 868-3100 to make arrangements.
During his DG report, Soucy said that Heroes’ Memorial, Waterloo and Granby are three of the emergency daycares open in the Townships to assist front line workers. “In the coming days, they will need some time to recharge. I’m sure people will answer the call,” he said.
Murray said the word from QESBA was that given the current situation with COVID-19, the legal challenge against Bill 40 has been delayed.
The spring conference, held annually for board members across the province, has been cancelled.
The big question of the night was what will happen when school resumes and how it will affect next year.
As it stands, school will resume May 4 (because May 1-a Friday- is a PED day).
According to commissioners, there have been calls from parents asking how the end of the year will play out. Murray said the board is having frequent meetings with managers and staff to keep everyone up to date, but given the fact that the situation is changing daily, no clear answer about testing, graduation or end of year results was addressed during the meeting.
When asked if there were contingency plan in place if school were to be cancelled for the balance of the year and how students would be reintegrated, Eva Lettner, Director of Instructional Technology and Pedagogical Services replied that the board’s plan is to focus on essentials.
“A formative assessment will be key,” Lettner said, to evaluate the students upon their return and concentrate on the essentials to bridge the gap and ensure they are prepared moving forward.
“It won’t be easy, and it won’t be anything close to perfect,” Murray said, while applauding the efforts of the ETSB community during this difficult time. “Thanks and congrats again to everyone for doing their share.”
During question period Appalachian Teachers’ Association President Megan Seline asked how the new adult education merger would affect teachers and students.
Soucy replied that the merger would not impact the teachers of the different centres, and said students would benefit from more learning opportunities.
Seline also asked, given the current situation, what would happen to staffing plans, the hiring process, deadlines for vacancies and protocol to fill vacant positions.
Jeffrey Pauw, Interim Assistant Director General and Director of Human Resources said the board is working on the situation on a daily basis and hopes the staffing procedure will not be affected. “Hopefully we will able to share information with school councils once we have identified the needs next year, and share that by the April 30 deadline.”
Seline followed up asking about special needs requests. “We will do our best to do all that we are supposed to,” Pauw said, adding that the dates in collective agreement still stand, and that there will be a consultation process.
Seline also asked about governing boards and board based committees like the teacher advisory committee.
According to Pauw, governing boards are considered public meetings, so for the moment they are suspended. “All non-critical meetings are postponed,” he said. For important ones, there is the possibility rescheduling. “We will do what we can to conduct those meetings,” Pauw said, reiterating the need to avoid public gatherings.
“Some deadlines will be tough to meet,” commented Pauw, waiting for instruction from the ministry on how to proceed.