As Whitehorse students head back to school Thursday, I'm giving the Yukon government's back-to-school plan a failing grade.
As a mother of two, I am concerned about our Grade 10 to 12 students. The government's proposed plan limits in-person instruction of students in these grades to about two hours per day, and suggests that students will engage in self-directed learning at home.
I, along with other parents I've spoken to, feel these plans indicate that Whitehorse youth are not a priority to the current government.
Our government should be able to support adequate education for all Yukon students.
I've given the government an 'F' based on critical elements of its plan. The Yukon Education Department's plan fails to:
Recognize the unique circumstances of life in Yukon
Inherent differences between Yukon and southern jurisdictions — like long periods of darkness, isolation and extreme cold — have been neglected in the back-to-school plan.
Environmental realities create barriers for our young people to participate in constructive activities and to gather safely outdoors. Barriers are compounded by COVID-19 restrictions. Yukon's higher than national average rates of mental illness, alcohol and drug use, and crime create an added level of risk for youth.
Unreliable internet connections also create significant barriers to online learning, and the cost of internet is extremely high compared to jurisdictions in the South.
Public transportation options in Whitehorse are also far less bountiful than they are in urban Southern Canada, where transit is better equipped to handle transportation for students.
Consider the repercussions of putting students at a disadvantage
Whitehorse high school students will be placed at a disadvantage in post-secondary classrooms since not all Grade 10 to 12 students will be in class full-time. Post-secondary school is competitive and our students deserve robust education to compete.
Whitehorse graduates will be evaluated against students from other jurisdictions that may have provided a more robust education in these critical final years for admissions, scholarships, grants and awards.
Senior high school students deserve to have the most time with their teachers in order to have the greatest possible advantage as they transition into further learning or into the workforce.
Consider the socio-economic divide
The Yukon government has failed to acknowledge that students who will do better under the proposed part-time system are those who have stable and financially secure families with the capacity to provide additional support to their children.
Our kids are worth our best collective effort. - Angela Drainville
The high cost of living in Whitehorse for housing, food, heating, and fuel, means that it is more difficult for a parent to reduce working hours, or give up work, in order to remain in the home to provide supervision, learning support, and safe transportation to and from school at irregular times.
Parents in lower-income households, who may have less flexibility at their workplaces, may not be able to leave work to transport their students during work hours. Single parents and families in lower socio-economic brackets are already struggling amid COVID-19 restrictions.
To burden them further through the 2020-21 education plan seems discriminatory.
Justify how the model will keep students and teachers safe from exposure
Other than its physical distancing guidelines, the Yukon government has failed to provide any rationale for providing only two hours of instruction per day.
We have seen no evidence to suggest that moving older high school students in and out of the schools during the day, and swapping groups in and out, will provide additional protection against COVID-19.
Finding additional space and hiring more teaching staff, while keeping all students in controlled, fixed environments all day, would have a greater impact on reducing potential exposure to COVID-19 in schools and in the community.
Balance the load on educators
Educators already have a heavy workload, but now they are tasked with additional duties including cleaning, daily lunch supervision of students, and providing online learning opportunities all while teaching full time.
In the current plan, our children are being forgotten, and our parents and teachers aren't being listened to. This is unacceptable.
It is clear that the current government does not view the education of Whitehorse Grade 10 to 12 students as a priority, nor do they indicate our students are worthy of investment.
If our children are truly important, the Yukon government would invest in ensuring the safe and full-time return of all students to the classroom in 2020-21.
It would collaborate with the community, secure additional spaces, hire additional teachers, and streamline the online component of the proposed pandemic school plan.
Our kids are worth our best collective effort.