The province’s announcement on the back-to-school date has School District 54 (SD54) preparing a written plan this week to be submitted for provincial approval for a safe return of students and staff to the schools.
“I can’t really get into a lot of specifics because we are required to submit a plan to the Ministry of Education by the end of the week; till that time everything is hypothetical,” said Mike McDiarmid, the superintendent for SD54.
Once the school district submits a plan, the ministry will have to approve or ask for revisions on the plan based on the government’s Provincial Covid-19 Health and Safety Guidelines for K-12 Settings document.
The document outlines BC’s five-stage framework for reopening schools as well as guidelines on student transportation on buses, cleaning and disinfecting protocols, curriculum, extracurricular activities, orientation practices, etc.
The document states that “while BC has announced a return to in-class instruction under Stage 2 for September 2020, school districts and independent schools must have necessary plans in place to be able to shift between stages if and when required.”
Stage 2 of the plan calls for full-time instruction for all students within specific group sizes or cohorts. The cohorts would basically have students divided into learning groups, with a maximum cohort size of 60 for elementary and middle school and a cohort size of 120 for secondary schools.
Last week, the Province announced a back-to-school date of Sept. 8 and then pushed it back by another two days to help staff and teachers better prepare.
“Yes we have those two additional days from the government, those days will be used to review safety plans and all the operational procedures under the guidelines, so that’s for the staff and after that, we will be inviting students in on Thursday and Friday and do the same things. Schools would be arranging those days,” said McDiarmid.
SD54 will also be running bus service for the students.
“We are planning on running them; there is a whole set of provincial regulations that we are going to follow and that will include masks,” said McDiarmid, adding that although masks are not mandatory, the province has recommended wearing masks when you can’t properly socially distance; such as in hallways and school buses.
“We are following the government’s recommendation about the return to school, and that comes directly from the provincial health officer, so we are supportive of her thoughts around return to school,” he said.
Not everyone is supportive of the province’s back-to-school plan.
B.C.’s teachers’ union, on August 19, called for additional protocols to be implemented for the Province’s back-to-school decision. Although the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) voiced their support for bringing students back to learning, it also listed concerns about the Province’s plan.
In a press release, BCTF president Teri Mooring said a recent spike in COVID-19 cases has led to concerns for teachers, parents and students.
“In an ideal situation, back to learning would mean all schools are safe for 100 per cent of students, teachers, and support staff to return all at once,” Mooring said. “However, the sharp rise in active COVID-19 cases has many people worried that the government has not done enough to ensure teachers, students, and their families are safe.”
To ensure a safer return to schools, the union is asking for expanding the mask mandate to students aged 10 and older in areas where social distancing is not possible, as well as in classrooms, labs and libraries. They are also of the opinion that remote learning options should be available for the safety of immunocompromised staff and students, as well as, to decrease the number of people in classrooms.
However, as per the current provincial plan, a full-time return to school for students is the only available option.
“Right now what the Province has recommended is a full-time return to school for students, so if they want to register for school, they need to attend full time. Now parents, of course, have the choice of signing up for distributed learning or doing home-schooling but it’s up to them,” said McDiarmid.
Several parents are also opposing the back-to-school date and the Province’s plan.
“It is clear to me that some parents are nervous with the return to school on a full-time basis and I think that is to be expected, and we will do our best to assure them that they will be safe and students stick to cohorts or they are socially distanced as recommended,” said McDiarmid.
SD54 will also have school sports activities following the BC School Sports memo, lifting the ban on such activity provided that they can be conducted by following the K-12 Education Restart Plan guidelines.
However, there would be no in-person inter-school competitions or events; a decision that could be reevaluated as the year progresses.
With files from Katya Slepian.