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District releases its back to school plan

School District 57 board chair Tim Bennett and schools superintendent Anita Richardson discuss the district’s back to school plan. Bill Phillips photo

Students will be heading back to school in a couple of weeks and, amid the new COVID-19 world, School District 57 has a plan for the return of ringing bells.

“Over the next couple of days or week, schools will be reaching out directly to families,” said Tim Bennett, School District 57 board chair. “As a district we will also be putting our more information for kids and families to know what school will look like in September.”

The plan, released yesterday (see below), covers everything from how classes will be structured, to cleaning protocols, to protocols should a child become sick as classes fully resume under the cohort model.

One of the big changes, for elementary school students, will be those who previously had an early dismissal on Wednesdays. That will be eliminated.

“There’s no set recess time,” said Bennett. “Teachers will get to go out and do recess with their kids … what works with their schedule.”

Lunch breaks will also be different as learning ‘cohorts’ will have lunch at different times so not all students will be breaking at the same time.

There will also be significant changes to secondary school as the district’s plan involves ‘cohorts’ that are smaller than the 120 recommended by the ministry of education.

Secondary students will work under a ‘quarter’ system.

“Students will take two courses for 10 weeks’ duration,” said Anita Richardson, schools superintendent. “Two courses every day for 10 weeks and that will be their learning group. Learning groups will stay closer to 60-70, but much lower than the 120.”

Richardson said plan maximizes teaching time for students and doesn’t reduce their course options.

For parents, Bennett says they should try to connect with their child’s teacher. In addition, each school will have a custodian in the school during the day.

“The biggest change you’ll see is a reduced inter-mixing of students on their outside of classroom time,” said Richardson.

With many parents across the province pushing for more of a hybrid model of school return which would allow students to utilize remote learning opportunities, such as was used in June, that is likely won’t be provided in School District 57. Victoria has announced that 16 of the province’s largest schools, all in the Lower Mainland, will be able to offer a hybrid model. The exception will be in situations where a student’s health makes it impossible for them to be in the classroom. However, parents may have some wriggle room.

“Schools will work with parents who may be wanting to have a bit of gentler start for their child,” said Richardson. “It that’s a concern, I would encourage them to have a conversation with their principal or teacher.”

Locally, that may include the district’s distance learning option.

All this, of course, costs money, some of which will come from the province and from Ottawa, which yesterday announced $2 billion to help provinces re-open schools.

“We are very fortunate that the ministry did set aside additional funds for health and safety,” said Richardson. “It did allow us to allow about 12,000 hours of custodial time and allow us to purchase some additional personal protective equipment for both students and staff.”

The district will have two reusable masks for every student and staff member, should they request them. The district will also have masks for one-off situations.

It will be back to school, but perhaps not quite the same.

“We hope that parents will trust the district and the public education system to get kids back into classrooms,” said Bennett. “But we recognize families have to do what’s best for them and there are other options out there.”

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