Parents fear some B.C. schools 'won't exist' under new online learning model

Some B.C. parents fear their children’s online schools may disappear under a new learning model coming next year.

The Ministry of Education says it’s rolling out a “new, single online learning policy” in time for the 2022 and 2023 school year. So far, few details have been released, which is causing stress for a number of families.

Kaye Banez, who lives with her family in Richmond, has two kids who attend an online school based in Kamloops. She says her kids, Lazarus and Estella, made the switch when the pandemic hit and the Kamloops school was the only online catholic school in the province.

“Online schooling has been the best decision that my husband and I have made for our children,” Banez said. “The school was very open and supportive of what Lazarus needed.”

Lazarus, nine, is on the autism spectrum and is mostly non-verbal. Banez said once he started learning from home he started to excel in his school work.

“Lazarus was hitting academic milestones that we didn’t realize he could hit,” she said. “And he’s able to get more therapy support through the school.”

Even his sister Estella, seven, is enjoying learning from home.

“If our online school breaks down and other kids wanted it, I would just make one again,” Estella said. “It would have math books that are super duper cute.”

The future of the children’s school is in question under the new online learning model set for roll-out next year.

In a statement, the Ministry of Education said the new model is to “ensure every student has equal and consistent access to a quality education,” and all schools will need to apply to become provincial online learning service providers.

Some details, including the criteria for schools to be approved, are still being worked out. The ministry’s statement goes on to say that “Additional information about the number and location of provincial online schools will be available in spring 2022 following provincial consultation and engagement.”

For another parent, Amanda Flentjar, that information is coming too late.

“Typically we start making the plans for that next school year in January and February,” Flentjar said. “The timeline that they’ve released just really doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Flentjar and Banez are both with Autism B.C. and have written two open letters to the province asking for clarity around the plan. They fear if some online schools do not get approved by next spring, parents will have to scramble to find another one for their children before the school year begins. Flentjar says the process is happening too quickly.

“To move forward and make changes that are going to have really negative impact on kids who have already had really traumatic school experiences, is irresponsible,” she said.

The ministry says it wants to hear from parents and families and it asking people to “participate in forums being held through October.”