The board for School District 71 office is asking the Ministry of Education for more flexibility around education delivery and funding this fall. File photo

The board for School District 71 office is asking the Ministry of Education for more flexibility around education delivery and funding this fall. File photo

Comox Valley school board asks Province for flexibility this fall

More educational options during pandemic means challenges, opportunities

School District 71 needs more flexibility now that students are back inside classrooms, say trustees.

At a board meeting on the eve of the school year, trustee Janice Caton put forward a couple of motions asking the Ministry of Education for some leeway.

One of the motions was to send a letter to the Ministry to advocate for more flexibility for districts to provide a range of learning options and opportunities for students, particularly a hybrid model for delivery. Part of the motion also calls for the Province to guarantee full funding for students regardless of what choice students and their families prefer.

“We want to provide a really robust educational service for our district, and we need to have the money to do it,” Caton said.

The board also passed a separate motion asking the Ministry of Education to postpone its usual Sept. 30 student count, which serves as the basis for the Province to set districts’ operating grants for the school year. In part, the delay would allow districts to adjust to the different education delivery models.

“We’ve had some really great options that our district is doing, but there is a cost factor to it, when you’re looking at lower class sizes, when you’re looking at different options,” Caton said.

Interim chair Tonia Frawley and trustee Sarah Jane Howe, who had questions around the content of the motions, abstained from voting.

The uncertainty around who will be in classes is tied to potential funding questions, as staff pointed out during the meeting. For example, there are some local students choosing remote learning options through other school districts, but if they chose to return to their school classroom this year after the Sept. 30 student count date, the district would face a funding shortfall for them, as they would be included in another district’s operating grant.

“They take the grants with them, and they’re registered in that district as of the 30th of September … and then they return to us, there’s no funding attached to that individual. That can be problematic,” Superintendent Tom Demeo told the board.

RELATED STORY: Comox Valley school district looks at student cohorts and more for restart

One positive development is a projected growth in enrolment. Demeo noted in the past, the district had faced declining enrolment, with staff hoping for the district to grow one day.

“I can tell you those days are here,” he said.

As of the beginning of September, the district had 136 new students at the elementary level, with more expected. At secondary, there were 43, though Demeo added this could pose a challenge if schools hold spaces for students choosing to study away from their classrooms but return later.

“These are brand new to the Valley,” he said. “We have to keep that in the back of our mind.”

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