Catholic board hits pause on elementary hybrid learning model

Trustees will get a report Nov. 25 and a decision could be made then on which direction to take

Following an uproar from some parents and even staff over a plan to shift elementary students to a hybrid learning model, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board (SMCDSB) trustees have hit the pause button, for now.

The shift was to take place Nov 23. In-class students were to be merged with virtual learners in the same class, under the direction of the homeschool classroom teacher.

The planned change resulted in a petition to the Catholic board and the province opposing the hybrid model, which collected over 1,700 signatures.

At the board’s Nov. 25 meeting, staff will be presented with various options, taking into account public feedback, the budget, staffing and recruitment, enrolement, and what other school boards have done.

“It’s about providing stability and sustainability,” Pauline Stevenson, SMCDSB Communications Manager, told Barrie 360. “not just until the end of June, but to carry us through into next school year if we need to, because we really do hear loud and clear and do understand that our students and staff — the changes and the inconsistency are really tough.”

The board announced a shift to the hybrid learning model in mid-October. In response to the blowblack, the board sent a letter to staff and families last Friday that acknowledged there were concerns and encouraged them to offer their opinions and suggestions online.

When the board announced the shift to a hybrid model, then-Interim Executive Director Catherine McCullough explained the current virtual school model was not sustainable.

“We have received more requests to switch from in-class to virtual or vice-versa than we anticipated and we simply cannot accommodate these changes within our current model. We have an obligation to meet the needs of our families who want to make changes to their mode of learning, but we must do so in a way that is feasible and sustainable in the long-term. This model will make it easier for students to return to in-class learning.”

As of Oct. 28, the Board said it had received close to 700 requests for students to switch from in-class to virtual or vice versa for the Nov. 23 transition point. The Board said it was unable to adequately staff the virtual school, which at the time had more than 3,300 students. The Board said the hybrid model would relieve these pressures.

Speaking to Barrie 360 on Thursday, Stevenson said the board is going to work really hard to try and accommodate those requests with as little disruption as possible.

The board laid out three times over the school year when parents could switch their children from virtual to in-class or vice versa, and Stevenson admits the board did not realize they would have 700 people asking for change in the first go-around in November.