School closures a possibility as HPEDSB deals with shifting enrolment

The HPEDSB Education Centre. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

 

DESIRÉE DECOSTE

STAFF WRITER

As students with Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) have been making the switch from in-person classes to virtual e-learning in numbers not anticipated, the local public school board is developing solutions and contingencies as the school year progresses.

One of those contingencies could mean an in-person school closure or program cancelation if numbers dip below a critical mass point.

As the end of Block A/Octomester 1 on October 6, 2020 and HPEDSB’s Block B/Octomester 2 commences October 8, 2020, HPEDSB officials remain positive this new approach between virtual and in-person learning has been successful in their secondary schools.

“We are noticing families changing their preference regarding conventional schooling and their children attending the virtual school in numbers we had not anticipated,” stated Kerry Donnell, Communications & Public Relations Manager with HPEDSB. “Trying to meet everyone’s needs during these ever-changing circumstances is proving to be very difficult. Reorganizing our schools by moving staff around to accommodate students moving in and out of the virtual school creates confusion and further uncertainty. As a result, parents/guardians will have to make the decision as to whether their children will attend the virtual school or remain at in-person school for the remainder of Semester 1.”

With Semester 1 ending January 28, 2021, parents/guardians have till September 30, 2020 at 3:00 PM as to whether their child/children will be in either virtual or in-person classes. HPEDSB’s original plan was to allow natural transition points in the semester; however, the high number of changes has tremendous and potentially very disruptive implications for staff in all schools, including the virtual school.

Parents/guardians of elementary and secondary students are asked to consider this decision very carefully as the next transition date for movement to and from the K-12 Virtual School is the start of Semester 2 which is January 29, 2021, with the cut-off date for changes being January 20, 2021. 

“Enrolment is shifting between in-person and virtual school,” said Donnell. “As of today(Sept. 29), the K-12 Virtual School has approximately 1,800 students. When Block B/Octomester 2 begins on October 8, that number will increase by approximately 600 (as of Sept. 29). The cut-off to switch between in-person and virtual is tomorrow afternoon.”

Like other Ontario school boards, HPEDSB is experiencing a shortage of teachers and support staff, such as educational assistants and custodians. The Board said their Human Resources team is actively recruiting for these roles although it is proving to be a challenge when other organizations are doing the same thing.

“We recognize the difficulty and strain this places on families,”Donnell expressed. “However, attempting to manage and continue the functional operation of the entire HPEDSB requires a level of planning and responsiveness that is influenced by family decisions. It’s important for families to know, in the event of school closures due to an outbreak, all students will have access to virtual learning, synchronous and asynchronous, through their home school.”

School closures or program reductions, which would mainly affect secondary schools, remain a possibility and depend on change in enrolment to virtual learning or how COVID-19 is spreading locally and in the province. HPEDSB are looking at this day-to-day and will be ready to make decisions as the situation warrants.

For more information from HPEDSB please visit www.hpedsb.on.ca