Vancouver high schoolers suffering from too few instructional hours during pandemic, parents say

·3 min read

The Vancouver School Board is getting a failing grade from some parents who say their children aren't getting enough class time in high school.

This perceived instructional deficit has them worried about their kids' academic prospects in the future and their mental health today.

"Once we realized how short school hours would be, we really struggled," said Corinne Hohl, an emergency room physician whose son Mathias is a Grade 8 student at Kitsilano Secondary.

"My child has gone from an outgoing, joyous, happy 13-year-old to a sullen, depressed, anxious, socially isolated, vulnerable teen … He's not doing very well."

Corrine Hohl
Corrine Hohl

The same is true for Nathan Hume's Grade 8 daughter Isla who attends Churchill Secondary.

Hume said Isla is getting 105 minutes of instructional time each day — eight hours and 45 minutes each week — plus unsupervised homework and twice-weekly hour-long music classes until February.

Hume, a lawyer, says Isla only gets one-third of the instruction time required by B.C.'s School Act and much less than what students get in North Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey.

The school boards of those cities said they offer at least 23 hours of instructional time each week, sometimes split between in-class and online learning.

Mark Hume
Mark Hume

"This was not identified in the VSB restart plan," Hume said. "Kids need to learn and they can learn safely."

The parents want Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside to order the VSB to provide more educational time.

Minister, VSB respond

Whiteside, in a statement, said she shares the concerns of the Vancouver parents. She said a review of Vancouver's instructional model, involving parents, students, Indigenous voices and unions, is underway .

"It is my expectation that VSB and all school districts adhere to the amount of instructional hours specified in the School Act," Whiteside said.

"I'm hopeful that the VSB can provide solutions to its instruction model to ensure appropriate delivery of an education program that meets the needs of their communities."

CBC News/Harman
CBC News/Harman

The focus during the second phase of B.C.'s restart, she added, should be on delivering classes in person, but online classes are acceptable for meeting the requirements.

The Vancouver School Board confirmed an evaluation is underway.

"As the District's Ministry of Education-approved Phase 2 plan was developed, it included input from students, families, school administrators, teachers and support staff," the board said.

"The plan prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff, keeps students connected to their home school and preserves students' choice of courses."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

'Decision making by fear'

Hohl and Hume believe fear of COVID-19 transmission in schools is what has driven the VSB's approach.

They both noted there have been few outbreaks in schools so far, and health officials have repeatedly said schools are not driving transmission.

"This has been decision making by fear and not by public health," Hohl said. "Whether or not kids can go to school should not be up to a public opinion survey."

Hume said he is most concerned about the social and emotional impacts felt by his daughter. She barely sees her friends, he said. Academically, he said, she is missing out on writing and physics instruction, core aspects of the curriculum.

One solution, he said, would be to further develop online instruction, so students can learn from a teacher, even if being in the same room is impossible.

He and Hohl say they worry about older kids preparing to go to university and how they will stack up against kids who have received a fuller education.

Hohl added that disconnection from a school environment is a poor sign when it comes to mental health and addiction issues.

"There is no vaccine for mental health outcomes. There is no vaccine for addiction outcomes," she said.

"We can't do this another year. We really can't."

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.