VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver School Board is increasing in-person class time for eighth graders, but other high school students will see no changes to how many hours they spend in the classroom.

The VSB’s Well-Being Committee heard from a number of concerned parents during a virtual meeting Wednesday night.

Many of the speakers said they are worried students are falling behind and that their mental health is suffering from a lack of social interaction.

"Lack of direction and too much screen time. My Grade 8 son who has just gone into high school is expected to self-direct and self-manage his own homework and his time. It is way too much to expect,” said Nancy Small, a parent of two high school students.

Vancouver high school students have been attending in-person classes for an hour and 45 minutes a day since the beginning of the school year. That’s less than nine hours a week.

The school district announced a number of changes Wednesday night:

  • All Grade 8 students will attend their remote class in person, twice per week, during flex time
  • All schools will go to a one-week rotation of remote and in-person classes
  • All students will have three interactive learning opportunities per week for remote classes, with increased social interaction

But some parents don’t think the changes go far enough.

Grade 8 students will be getting an extra two hours of in-class instruction time a week, while their counterparts in other Lower Mainland school districts are in class full time.

“I’m extremely disappointed by their modifications. They amount to really no changes for kids,” said Niki Boyd, a parent to an eighth grader.

She also criticizes the school board for being too vague about the changes to the online interactive learning.

“Are those five minute sessions? Are they two hour sessions? There's no duration. There's no wording around what an interaction is,” she said.

Rob Schindel, the district’s associate superintendent, said he empathizes with the parents’ concerns but defends the changes, adding they were made based on feedback from parents, students, and health officials.

From Nov. 25 to Dec. 6, 2020, more than 5,000 students and 6,000 families filled out a survey about their experience with the school year schedule.

“There are some parents that would like more in-person, face-to-face instruction for their students, but the majority of our families are OK with the current delivery service,” he said.

Schindel said eighth graders are seeing the greatest change because when assessing the academic achievement data, students in all the other grades are achieving the same level of success or slightly better.

Those in grade eight are performing slightly worse than usual, especially in subjects such as literacy and science.

“We wanted to address that. We were also hearing from students from families, from staff about the social connection with the grade eights, so we wanted to create more opportunities, offer that social connection to happen,” he said.

The changes take effect for Quarter 3, beginning Feb. 4, 2021.

Schools will publish an adjusted school-wide schedule in the coming days.

Students will be notified by teachers if their courses are impacted by the changes.