The Edmonton Public School Board plans to spend $1 million to fund a virtual school which it claims will address “systemic racism.”
According to a Board of Trustees of Edmonton School Division agenda, the board will give $1 million over two years to fund virtual schools. In its first year, the program will fund 200 students.
In a report, the board says that virtual school “rethinks” the purpose of school and acknowledges that traditional conceptions of schools are hindered by a largely Eurocentric worldview.
“In order to address issues of systemic racism and the unnecessary marginalization of groups of students within our learning communities, Virtual School will center curriculum and pedagogies around Indigenous, holistic, digital, and place based practices,” the agenda reads.
It further says that virtual school will respond to challenges students face in a traditional classroom setting, like anxiety, mental health, poverty, transiency, cultural responsiveness of curricula and pedagogy. It also says that space in the region’s high schools are limiting capacity.
The Alberta Parents’ Union executive director Jeff Park said the 2019-2022 school years revealed that virtual schooling is not the right fit for every student.
“Also, the large and growing South Asian community in Edmonton would be surprised to hear many of their educational preferences referred to as ‘Eurocentric’ and associated with ‘systemic racism and unnecessary marginalization,’” Park told True North.
Following two years of intermittent remote learning, a Horace Mann report from October 2021 found that more than half of US public school K-12 teachers said the pandemic resulted in a “significant” learning loss for students, both academically and socially.
Horace Mann found that more than 97% of educators saw learning loss in their students in 2021, when compared with children in previous years. Another 57% of teachers estimated that students are behind by more than three months in their social-emotional progress.
In November, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith said she won’t permit schools to move classes entirely online anymore after hearing parents and students have told her they desire a regular school environment following the pandemic.
The virtual school is an initiative from the Bennett-Argyll-Metro school. The Edmonton Public School Division would provide the “student-centered, blended, hybrid” learning.
“This blended or hybrid approach will deliver virtual learning and local in-person opportunities for those who would like access to enriched experiences,” the agenda says.
The board already received a partial grant funding of $12,000 from Alberta Social Innovation: Community Catalyst Fund.
An EPSB spokesperson told True North the board has submitted a number of grant applications from different orders of government and other organizations seeking funding for this pilot project.
“We are still waiting for approval on a number of the applications, therefore, we cannot provide an exact breakdown of funding for this project at this time.”
Park also said it’s good that a large school board is responding to Alberta’s robust system of choice and competition by innovating and providing more options.
“If families want more of this pilot program, it will flourish,” he said.
“If families want something else, they will seek out those options. That’s the beauty of trusting parents to be their children’s best advocates over educrats at EPSB or Alberta Education.”