Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is again going through a COVID-19-influenced school year. (News Bulletin file)

Ladysmith students return to schools after many families chose distance learning last year

COVID-19 led to increase in distance-ed, but students migrating back to schools, reports SD68

Distance education was popular with Nanaimo-Ladysmith families last year due to COVID-19, and the school district says it is ready for whatever comes this year.

More students went with distance/distributed learning education last year, so much so that kindergarten to Grade 9 registration was halted last November. The district previously stated it anticipated an influx of students returning to bricks-and-mortar schools and Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent and CEO, said the district is “absolutely” ready with students set to attend class as they did prior to the pandemic.

“We have set aside decent contingencies to allow for a greater influx into our Island Connect Ed, which is our [distance] learning program,” said Saywell. “We have much more enrolment than we typically would still in Island Connect Ed, but about half as the number we had last year. A good number of students have migrated back.”

Saywell said the district has staffed distributed learning for the whole year based on “a slightly higher than average enrolment,” which will allow the program to serve students while the district posts additional jobs in the event of higher-than-expected enrolment.

Contingencies are in place in the event of increased exposures or outbreaks at schools, according to Saywell.

Schools and the district learning services team are able to support students who could be required to self-isolate. The superintendent said in addition to homework, the district is also ready to provide additional supports for teachers and students if a group of students is unable to attend school for a significant period of time.

“What I’m hearing is that most parents and students had a pretty good experience when we had to pivot and go online there for a short period of time … if we have to go there again, we’re even more prepared this year,” said Saywell.

Last year, the district provided outreach support to students impacted by COVID-19 and will continue to provide extra supports where appropriate, he said.

While 14,360 full-time students are anticipated, Saywell said the district is seeing an increase in enrolment at both the elementary and secondary school levels, but it is too early to provide numbers. The district will know specifics after Sept. 30, when it reports to the B.C. Ministry of Education, he said, and SD68 is confident it will surpass spring projections.

Jeremy Inscho, district teachers’ union president, said teachers are prepared for the different learning models.

“There’s always staffing issues to some extent, especially with various specialty areas of teaching, but by and large there are lots of teachers out there who are able to fill classroom positions that may wither down the teachers-teaching-on-call list. Getting coverage for illnesses and absences of various sorts is a challenge, but I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of classroom teaching positions that would be unfilled,” said Inscho.

A transition program – which allowed students to learn via distance education before deciding whether to continue with that model or go back to a physical school – was offered last year, but won’t be this year, the district said.

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Ladysmith Chronicle