The June 1 return to school for School District 43 is completely voluntary but will be an opportunity for students to get used to a new normal when it comes to health and safety, says the district’s superintendent.
Smaller classes, strict hand washing-protocols, staggered starts, ends and lunch times, traffic control in the hallways and even courtesy masks worn voluntarily by some people will be part of school while COVID-19 remains a threat.
“We want all children to have the opportunity to communicate and engage with classmates,” superintendent Patricia Gartland told The Tri-City News. “It’s really a practice round for September.”
While SD43’s back-to-school plan must obtain provincial approval, all government safety protocols are being implemented, Gartland added, with staff orienting to the new measures starting next week.
As well, parents can expect to hear next week what their child’s schedule will be should they decide to send them to school for the final month of the school year.
It will be important that parents keep their child home if they are sick, however, and while attendance will be taken, it’s not for punitive measures, Gartland said, but to ensure the appropriate number of people are in the building during the day.
To keep school numbers low and ensure physical distancing, students will attend school on certain days of the week, depending on the first letter of their last name in the alphabet, with kindergarten to Grade 5 students in class two days a week and middle and secondary students attending one day a week.
Classes will therefore be in session Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday for scheduled students, with Wednesdays in all schools reserved for remote learning, and deep cleaning of classrooms, offices and washrooms.
However, children of essential service workers and those with special education needs can attend five days a week, Gartland said.
“Teachers and support staff will be there so the students can be there full-time,” she explained.
While SD43 won’t be hiring any more staff to keep up with cleaning or for hall monitoring, Gartland said she expects the new school routine be safe, clean as as well as welcoming.
“We want to reassure families that we are dong everything possible and will be applying all guidelines and regulation to make sure schools are clean and safe for your children,” Gartland said.
At 50% for younger grades and 20% full for older grades schools will look very different from a few months ago with small numbers of students in classes, all spaced apart, and with staggered breaks and lunches.
HOW MANY WILL RETURN?
But while School District 43 is making plans for students to return to school June 1 in the wake of last Friday’s provincial announcement, it’s difficult to know how many will return.
“I don’t know how many parents will be taking up the option for a couple of days a week. One wonders how much disruption that will bring to family schedules,” said Marvin Klassen, president of the SD43 District Parent Advisory Council.
However, Klassen said he has “every confidence” SD43 will come up with a solid plan and get it approved by the provincial government.
“My anticipation is that they already had put into policy how they were going to handle the return to school,” Klassen added. “They’ve been working on that for awhile. I expect there is going to be a real standardized procedure for morning entry and all the different situations and how recess will go.”
Meanwhile, teachers are still waiting to hear what their work space and routines will look like upon their return.
For nearly two months, teachers have been instructing classes virtually from home and some are a bit apprehensive about returning to school, according to Coquitlam Teachers Association president Ken Christensen.
Teachers will be allowed to wear masks, he confirmed, although for the protection of others and are not mandatory as they aren’t seen as necessary in schools by the provincial health officer. And while schools that have stayed open already have strong protocols for physical distancing and cleaning, he suspects more will be needed as classes ramp up.
“Those protocols will have to be beefed up a lot,” Christensen said, noting that both the CTA and the BC Teachers’ Federation have been working with school officials on a safe return for teachers.