School District 8 has released its back-to-school plan after it was approved by the education ministry this week.
The document lays out COVID-19 safety protocols for the district’s 22 schools, including what parents can expect for their students when classes begin Sept. 10.
Superintendent Christine Perkins said the plan offers the opportunity for full-time, in-class learning for the entire academic year.
“Our ultimate goal is to maximize the number of students and teachers as possible and to make our schools warm and welcoming and that we’re excited,” said Perkins. “We’re excited to have them back.”
Although schools will be full, students will be divided into what are called learning groups meant to limit interactions. Elementary schools and Trafalgar Middle School, for example, will have learning groups of 60 students. Secondary schools such a L.V. Rogers meanwhile have expanded learning groups of 120 students.
When parents drop their children off at school, they’ll find staff directing them to different areas where their learning group will be. From there, the students will be shown how to line up and enter the building.
SD8 previously opened classes in June, which served as a trial run for the fall. Perkins said one of the takeaways was how young students adapted to new protocols.
“They learned super fast through the process,” she said. “They can teach all of us about the hygiene procedures and things like that. But for those who did not come back, that’s why we go very systematically through the process to make sure that we catch them up to what they’re supposed to do at their own school.”
Students can also expect to wash their hands a lot more than they ever have.
Hands will be sanitized when students arrive at the school and before exiting the building, before and after breaks and meals, whenever they enter a different learning environment like a gym or a library, and when they use shared supplies or equipment. That’s in addition to the usual hygiene following bathroom breaks or when coughing into their hands.
Masks will also be required for staff and middle school and secondary school students in busy areas like hallways or on the bus. Perkins said the district is encouraging students to bring their own masks, but two reusable masks will also be provided to staff and students.
Students won’t have to wear masks in the classroom if they prefer, and desks won’t necessarily be spread apart either.
That’s because the learning groups operate essentially as bubbles, which means as long as students stay within their group the rules are slightly relaxed.
Perkins added the number of people in a learning group can be higher than the 50-person limit set by the province because the personal and custodial maintenance will be more routine in the school. The plan, for example, calls for frequently touched surfaces to be disinfected at least twice a day and once during school hours.
“Once you’re in your bubble, it’s like being home in your family. It’s going to be a very safe space,” said Perkins.
The downside of the learning group system is it scraps the possibility of most school-wide and interschool events. Sports can happen within learning groups, Perkins said, but competitions between school teams are out. Other activities like band and choir can occur with students from different groups, but only if they are distanced.
Some schools will also have their own unique protocols.
Jewett Elementary, for example, can hold events like assemblies because their student populations are under the limit.
L.V. Rogers, the district’s most populous school, will have what Perkins calls the one-in-five system, or students taking one class for five weeks before moving onto a different subject. That, she said, will help limit students from having to change classrooms multiple times in a day.
The district has also provided options for parents and students who aren’t comfortable returning to brick-and-mortar buildings.
The Elev8 program offers online learning for kindergarten to Grade 12 students. Parents need to register first for the program, which they can do online at https://elev8.sd8.bc.ca/. The program has its own certified teachers, and educational assistant supports for students also continues if they opt for the Elev8 program.
Students can also register as homeschooled, which has seen a rise in interest from parents since the lockdown.
It’s not clear though if parents or students will find out if another student or staff member is infected by COVID-19.
Perkins said under that scenario the district takes direction from Interior Health, which decides how, or if, the public is notified. Interior Health typically does not announce single cases of COVID-19.
She added parents can speak with their school principals if they have any specific questions before the classes reopen.
“A lot of it is anxiety. People are worried and scared and we want to reassure them that we’ve got everything ready for them,” said Perkins. “We’re more than prepared on the safety and health side and we value the relationships we do have with the kids and we want them back.”
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