All students in School District No. 74 (Gold Trail) are expected to be back in class starting Monday, Sept. 14, according to the district’s plan, which has been approved by the Ministry of Education.
“Once the plan has been approved we’ll release it and share it broadly for everyone to read,” says SD74 Superintendent Teresa Downs.
“We realize it’s very important for families in making the decision to return to school. The plan will outline all the health and safety regulations in the classrooms, outside the schools, and on the buses, and will describe what learning groups will look like and what the day will look like.”
Downs notes that the majority of the district’s students have not been in school for almost six months, since school was suspended province-wide in March. While the district did re-open schools in June, attendance was voluntary, and Downs says that only 20 per cent of the students in SD74 returned to school then.
However, the reopening in June did allow the district to see what a return to class would look like in the era of COVID-19. “Our health and safety plan is completely based on BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) revised guidelines on school settings, which was released on July 29, and we reflected on what we learned from March to June. That informs how to support staff and students on safety around school, but we feel our role is to abide by every rule the BCCDC tells us to follow.”
Over the past two weeks the district has been engaging with community leaders in the development of the reopening plan, asking and answering questions. “We find that when people understand what’s being put in place there’s a decrease in fear and anxiety.”
The district has also been fielding questions from families. “People want to understand the options, what role personal protective equipment will play in schools, so that they can make an informed decision about their students. The number one thing we’re hearing is a desire to hear about what health and safety measures will be in place: what buses and classrooms will look like, how will physical distancing be enforced.”
While the Province initially announced that students across B.C. would be back to school on Tuesday, Sept. 8, the start date was rolled back to Sept. 10 in order to give teachers and staff more time to prepare. Downs says that in SD74, Sept. 10 and 11 will be orientation days, with half the students in school on the 10th and the other half on the 11th.
“Different grade populations will be allowed back to school for a full day of health and safety orientation, so they can see what the school day will be. Then, on Sept. 14, we look forward to welcoming all students back.”
Downs says that on buses, the BCCDC guidelines are quite clear. Students will be sitting with someone from either their family or their learning group, and all seating will be assigned. Students will board from the rear and get off at the front, and while younger students will have a choice as to whether or not they wear a mask on the bus, current guidelines state that secondary students are required to wear masks on buses unless they have a medical condition that prevents them wearing one or cannot tolerate masks.
The district’s experience in June was valuable when it comes to health and safety in the classrooms, says Downs.
“Carpets and all soft fabric furniture have been removed, as have manipulative and porous items that can’t be cleaned between usages. There will be proper spacing, and no reception area seating. Some of those extra things that make classrooms warm won’t be there, but there are lots of alternatives we can use. It’s caring, but sadly not sharing, right now.”
She notes that the Board of Trustees for SD74 prioritized the universal school lunch program in the 2020/21 budget, so that will be returning, albeit with a few differences. There will be no trips to the cafeteria or a central lunch room; instead, meals will be individually wrapped and brought to students in their classrooms.
“We’re still working on keeping kids apart. June taught us about designated entrances and exits for different cohorts. There will be playground zones, so if a student is in a particular learning group they will be assigned a place where they can play, and there will be different break and transition times [for different cohorts].”
Downs adds that one of the biggest areas of learning from the spring was computer access for students learning from home. “In the event that we need it, the board has allocated funds for tech equipment if the family doesn’t have it.”
She notes that school is not voluntary, and that the plan is for all SD74 students, Kindergarten through Grade 12, to be back in school full-time, five days a week as of Sept. 14.
“What families have before them is an option: regular brick and mortar schools, home schooling, or distributed learning. There are different public and private organizations that can enroll students [in distributed learning], so parents would need to find an institution in the province that can provide that, as Gold Trail doesn’t have it.”
Downs says that the district is looking forward to getting their plan approved and sharing it with families.
“If people are interested in seeing what measures are being put in place and what school will look like in the era of COVID-19, they can reach out to their school principal.
“We’re very hopeful that we’ll see students back, and show all the steps and measures we’re taking to make schools healthy and safe environments for students, staff, and families.”