Students shorted classroom hours

A concerned parent is calling on the School District to give students the proper amount of instructional hours in the classroom

A concerned parent is calling on the Greater Victoria School District to give students the proper amount of instructional hours in the classroom after discovering the hours fall short of the minimum requirement.

According to the 2015 school calendar regulation set out by the Ministry of Education, students in grades 1 to 5 are required to have a minimum 878 hours of instruction. This year, students are getting 863.76 hours — 14 hours less.

Students in kindergarden are required to have a minimum 853 hours of instruction and are getting just over 863 hours. Students in grades 6 and 7 must also have 878 hours and are getting 915.

Tom Berkhout, a Fairfield resident who has two children in grades 1 and 3 at Sir James Douglas Elementary, said the discrepancy was first brought to his attention by his mother-in-law, a former superintendent in Ontario.

“It made me think, who is looking out for the interests of student and families?” he said. “It reinforces at the school board level when these types of decisions are being made, it’s very clear that the student requirement of getting that 878 instructional hours was probably the very last thing fit into the schedule when it should have been the first thing.”

Berkhout is concerned the lack of time in the classroom means less opportunity to learn.

“There’s just a concern that over time there’s this slow erosion of educational priorities and what impact that has on children and families,” he said, adding there is a financial burden on parents who have to spend money on additional daycare costs when children should be in school.

Greater Victoria School District Superintendent Pieter Langstraat said the lack of instructional hours is an abnormality.

According to contractual stipulations between the school district and the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association (GVTA), the school year must start after Labour Day and end the last Friday of June. Since Labour Day fell on Sept. 7, it condensed the school calendar.

“The ministry stipulates minimum hours. I can understand where parents would expect that those minimum hours are met,” said Langstraat, adding a late Labour Day won’t happen again for years. “It simply is a perfect storm of dates, contractual language and this current calendar year that has led to this situation.”

Jason Gammon, first vice president of the GVTA, said the provincial school act is more rigid in how those hours are delivered and they have established a three-year plan to ensure the minimum requirements are met over those years.

“For parents that are concerned, if your child is in (kindergarden) to five, over the next three years they will get the minimum instructional requirements,” he said, adding students could have more than the minimum instructional hours next year.