Although school officially starts on Sept. 1, only 73 per cent of families at Red Deer Public have so far responded to a district survey sent out earlier this month that asks what their plans are for student learning this fall. (Photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)

Nearly 30 per cent of Red Deer Public School families have not yet revealed their back-to-school plans

School officials will begin phoning parents because they need to know

Red Deer Public School officials can’t fully plan for return-to-school until they get a firmer handle on how many students will be in classrooms, versus online learning.

Although public school officially starts on Sept. 1, only 73 per cent of families have so far responded to a district survey sent out earlier this month that asks what their plans are for student learning this fall.

Of the returned surveys, 92 per cent indicated children will be back in the classroom. Eight per cent stated kids will stay home and learn online, said the district’s community relations director, Bruce Buruma Thursday.

He said the district will now have to phone the 27 per cent of families, who are either still undecided or haven’t gotten around to responding, to find out how they are learning.

“We need to have this information in order to do our planning,” added Buruma.

While the public school district has already signed contracts with teachers and educational assistants, Buruma explained some teachers will be instructing in the classroom while others will be assigned to provide support for students learning from home — the same teachers will not do both.

Online learning this fall will be different than what was provided during the pandemic lock down last spring.

Buruma said instead of learning lessons at the same pace as other students, as in a virtual classroom, stay-at-home students will have more self-directed education — similar to the Alberta distance learning program. Teachers will be available to support students but not necessarily to lead lessons, he added.

This fall could present a “chicken and egg” scenario, with some parents waiting to hear school districts’ plans before making their decisions, while districts can’t make plans until they find out what parents are deciding, he admitted.

If some families are waiting to see what class sizes will be, Buruma advises looking back at the last school year as reference.

The government has called for a return to “near-normal conditions,” he added — and school districts have not received more funding to reduce class sizes.

In fact, Buruma said districts are now facing mounting costs for pandemic-related challenges that are not completely covered by the additional dollars the government promised for classroom sanitizing.

Although school divisions will collect per-pupil government grants for enrolled students who learn in classrooms and those who study through the district’s distance-learning program, they will no longer get per-pupil grants for “true home schoolers,” who can now practise outside of any school district authority.

Buruma said this change was made through legislation passed this summer by the UCP government.

Red Deer Catholic school district was not able to provide its survey numbers on Thursday morning.

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