The Ministry of Education has approved the Southeast Kootenay school district COVID-19 protocols as students and staff prepare to return to the classroom in two weeks.
Jason Tichauer, the Safe Schools Coordinator for SD5, says the district put together working groups made up of district staff, teachers, support staff, parents and other stakeholders, to create plans for elementary, middle and secondary school students. From there, school-specific plans were drawn up, according to Tichauer.
The district has released it’s COVID-19 protocol guidelines, a 47-page document, on its website, while each individual school in Cranbrook should also have their own guidelines posted online for parents and students to review, added Tichauer.
“I think that was one of our challenges, is that we’re not building plans that are best for our kids or our staff, we’re building plans that are best for our students and our staff within these [COVID-19] guidelines, if that makes any sense,” Tichauer said. “So that was a lot of the challenge, if I say, ‘well, I don’t think this is best’ — you’re right, it’s not. We would never do this in normal times, because in the end, learning in guidelines takes a backseat to health and safety.”
Those individual plans include outlining the ‘shape of the day’ — what a typical day of instruction will look like, along with staggered times for recess, lunch, and further health and safety protocols for students, staff and parents.
Staff and students will also be required to complete health checks by filling out a daily yes/no questionnaire asking if anyone is experiencing a litany of cold or illness symptoms.
The start of the school year will be slightly delayed, as staff will meet over two days between Sept.8-9 to review COVID-19 protocols, while students will have two days of orientation on Sept. 10-11 and be introduced to the new school routines and schedules.
Elementary and middle schools will feature learning groups of 60, including staff, while secondary school learning groups include 120 students and staff.
Each level comes with unique challenges, according to Tichauer.
For parents with elementary school students, Tichauer said learning groups will likely be organized by grade.
“At the elementary level, parents can expect to see not a lot of difference because primarily elementary classes are with a teacher most of the day, maybe they go to band or something like that for an elective, but for the most part it’s the [one] elementary teacher they see all day,” Tichauer said.
“So that is really going to be unchanged. I think at the elementary level, you can pair two classes together, that can be a learning group.”
However, middle and secondary schools posed some more significant timetable changes.
Middle schools also have learning groups of 60, including students and staff, however, there are additional challenges in delivering some elective courses, such as band or trades instruction.
“Sometimes there might be a need to bring another teacher in for prep coverage or specific electives that is outside of that learning group because they may see other kids as well,” Tichauer said. “So those would be subject to more stringent health and safety guidelines, around social distancing, around PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] usage, but for the most part, they’ve been able to honour the learning group model for the kids.”
Secondary school students will be organized into learning groups of 120, including staff, as timetables were significantly altered, Tichauer said. Students will have two classes a day for 10 weeks in a quarter system.
As with middle school electives, there may be off-timetable courses outside of a learning group where increased health and safety protocols are needed, such as social distancing or wearing masks.
Grad requirements will remain the same, he added.
Under the Stage Two model the Ministry of Education is working under, there won’t be a hybrid remote and in-class learning environment such as what students and teachers experienced last June.
If parents are feeling any trepidation sending their kids to school, options include independent distributed learning or home-schooling. However, the distributed learning model is a separate delivery option from in-class instruction; it’s one or the other, according to Tichauer.
Tichauer said he encourages any parents with questions to review individual school plans and to contact administrators at a particular school if those questions aren’t answered.
“I think when you see those plans online and the fact that they’ve been pulled together within a week and the kind of breadth and depth of what people have pulled off…is truly amazing,” he said. “I don’t pump our tires too often, but I think our folks have done an amazing job of reconfiguring our buildings to adhere to these guidelines and really, to have students and parents feel safe about coming back.”
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