Rainbow board trustees concerned about proposed permanent digital learning

It was a passionate meeting Tuesday evening for the Rainbow District School Board, but one where they were all in agreement.

Trustees gathered to hear from superintendents and unions about the potential of the province making digital learning a permanent part of public education.

"This has had my hair on fire for over a week now -- I see this as a very slippery slope to privatization of the public education system," said trustee Dena Morrison. "We can't let that happen and I would assume that everyone that I'm looking at on the screen here today, and the thousands of people that I'm not, everyone who's a champion for public education should have their hair on fire right now and should be fighting and saying something out loud."

Morrison said a parent's choice is going to have an impact on the educational system as a whole.

"This is a money grab," she said. "This is about reducing the amount of staff in boards and removing that funding from board control. We know staff are the critical piece in programming and support for our students."

Trustee Judy Kosmerly echoed those statements. Kosmerly said the ministry didn't do any consultation and failed to study the research.

"We haven't gone through a full school year to see what the effects are of virtual learning on children's mental and social health," she said. "We don't know it if works for everyone and I don't think it does ... for what we're seeing and what we heard last night, there's certainly a lot of downfalls with using remote as a permanent sort of solution."

"If we split the delivery of education into several different options that are available, none of them will be properly funded," said board chair Doreen Dewar.

Dewar told CTV News she's hopeful a lot of people watched and listened to the meeting and heard the concerns of staff, unions and trustees.

She said they are calling for the school system to go back to where it was, pre-COVID.

They plan on writing a letter to the Minister of Education, local politicians and their counterparts at other boards in hopes of gaining support.

"We see the detriment this could cause, almost a societal detriment," Dewar said.

The long-time trustee ended the meeting by telling the board:

"I would like to add that our in-person, public education system is the great equalizer; it is the level playing field that provides equal opportunity for all our children regardless of race, colour or creed and regardless of geography, income or capabilities. This is an issue worth fighting for."

CTV News did reach out to the Minister of Education about the meeting and didn't hear back before deadline. But a ministry source told CTV the province is consulting on this being an option and choice for parents and students.

"Some students do not have access to critical courses, depending on where they live or go to school, creating barriers for students to get the courses they need or want to take," the source said.

"For example, almost 40 per cent of small schools don’t offer Grade 12 Physics – an important science credit that many STEM-related postsecondary programs require students to complete. Online learning increases access and choice equitably to students across the provinces."