Shuswap Middle School was one of three schools to lose a teaching position within School District #83 due to enrolment numbers impacted by COVID-19. (Shuswap Middle School/Facebook)

Volatile enrolment leads to loss of teaching staff at three North Okanagan-Shuswap schools

Three quarters of students using online learning program expected to return to class

A high number of students transitioning to online instruction necessitated the reduction of a teaching position at three schools in the North Okanagan-Shuswap.

On Tuesday, Sept. 23, during the first School District #83 board of trustees meeting since classes began for the 2020-21 school year, superintendent Peter Jory delved into enrolment and the number of students who’ve opted to take part in the Education Outreach Program (EOP) – the district’s online education program. Previously available to high school students, the program was reopened this year for students in Kindergarten to Grade 8.

As of the Tuesday meeting, Jory said about 300 students had chosen the EOP route. However, he added this was expected to be a temporary situation for 75 per cent of those students who are likely to return to their regular schools before the end of the year. The remaining 25 per cent have indicated the move to EOP will be permanent for the 2020-21 school year.

“This enrolment is very fluid in both directions, with new registrations still occurring daily, and some students already returning to their regular schools,” said Jory.

With the high number of students currently in EOP, as well as students who, for other reasons, have not returned to in-class instruction, the school district was required to reduce one teaching position at three of its schools: MV Beattie Elementary in Enderby, Highland Park Elementary in Armstrong, and Shuswap Middle School in Salmon Arm.

With COVID-19, Jory explained, enrolment was difficult to predict and, with the reduced numbers, an operational decision was required. He said the staffing reductions resulted in a savings of $300,000.

Read more: COVID-19 makes its mark on Shuswap schools, teachers and parents

Read more: Parents surveyed about reopening of School District #83 classrooms

Read more: UPDATE: B.C. teachers’ union calls for remote learning option, stronger mask mandate

“As much as it was a tough decision to make, and it wasn’t necessarily a popular one, especially with enrolment, the board has $300,000 to spend down the road and it was our opinion that that money was going to be needed,” said Jory.

The school district had projected 6,517 students would return, and staffed schools based on that. On a positive note, Jory said about 94 per cent have come back or have agreed to do so, adding the recent provincial average was around 85 per cent.

“Currently, we have just under 180 students on soft-start, 220 in EOP temporarily, and 62 already signed up for EOP all year, with perhaps 30 more on the way,” said Jory. “Assuming everyone that says they will come back does so, we are only down 80 to 100 FTE (full-time equivalent students).

“However, there are unknowns in that range, in that if any of our soft starts or EOP returning students register elsewhere, we will not get funded for them, and the potential liability will grow.”

Trustee Quentin Bruns, who represents Enderby, Sicamous, Electoral Area E (Columbia Shuswap Regional District) and Electoral Area F (Regional District of the North Okanagan), asked what should happen if students currently using the online program decide later in the school year that they wish to transition back to in-class instruction. Jory said the school district would take them if there’s space, or would try to find space for them. In the case of rural schools, like MV Beattie, Jory said if going to a neighbouring school isn’t feasible for the student, the school district would look at going over the contract to find them space.

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