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Teachers grapple with closure of distance learning centre

August 27, 2020 Cailynn Klingbeil, Special to the ATA News


The upcoming closure of the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) is creating uncertainty across the Pembina Hills School Division, as more than 100 teachers and support staff currently working at the centre must transition elsewhere.

“There’s a human factor to this that we can’t ignore,” said Jason Schilling, Alberta Teachers’ Association president.

“There are 79 teachers who work there and 34 support staff, and so some people will be able to transition into other areas of the school district, but some people will be losing their jobs, unfortunately.”

In late February, the ADLC learned its service agreement with Alberta Education would not be renewed beyond the 2021/22 school year and its funding would drop from $14 million in 2020/21 to $7 million in 2021/22.

The centre has since decided to close a year early — in June 2021 — over concerns about its ability to operate on a $7 million budget.

Formerly the Alberta Correspondence School, ADLC has been administered by the Pembina Hills School Division since 1997. (Pembina Hills also maintains its own separate distance education school, called Vista Virtual School.)

The provincial centre provides distance education to students across Alberta, as well as teacher support services.

Students access ADLC for a variety of reasons, Schilling said, from younger students taking supplementary courses not offered at their school to older students depending on the centre to complete high school. Additionally, during natural disasters such as floods or forest fires, ADLC has stepped in to provide materials to affected schools to ensure continuity, Schilling said.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary to Alberta’s education minister, told CBC Calgary in March that the funding changes to ADLC would provide equitable funding to all distance learning providers in Alberta.

While ADLC was at one time the only distance education provider in Alberta, there are now 32 school districts offering their own distance learning to students, he said.

When the ADLC closes, Schilling expects that school districts without their own distance learning programs will have to pay other school districts for their services rather than access ADLC’s services for free.

“The ADLC has been doing this for over 100 years really, really well,” Schilling said. “Despite other boards developing distance learning models, a provincially authorized agency is still needed.”

Schilling said that a competitive model where school divisions market programs and fight for distance learning enrolment sits in opposition to the goals of public education.

In addition to the impact on students and school districts, concern exists for teachers.

Of the 79 teachers at ADLC, Schilling said about 20 are telecommuters who live in places like Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Calgary. Schilling said those teachers now face a hard decision: move to the Barrhead and Westlock area to stay with the school district, or look elsewhere for work.

Some other teachers with the Pembina Hills School Division may also be affected, Schilling said, as teachers with temporary or probationary contracts may lose their jobs to incoming ADLC staff.

“It’s not ideal at all,” Schilling said.

As president of the Pembina Hills Local 22, Michelle Savoie has been hearing from concerned members throughout the summer, including both teachers at ADLC and at schools in the division. With about 360 teachers in the division, the shuffling of 79 teachers from ADLC is significant.

“They’re all concerned, wondering what does this mean for me?” Savoie said.

A “targeted teacher reduction plan” has been introduced to incentivize some teachers to leave, Savoie said, but the situation is still nerve-racking for teachers in the district with less experience, who fear getting bumped out of their positions.

“It’s the unknown about it all that’s worrisome,” she said. ❚


The availability of distance learning options in Alberta stands to be impacted by the closure of the Alberta Distance Learning Centre.