Southeast Kootenay school district set to reopen next week

Individual schools have creative timetables and schedules in order to adhere to public health orders

Schools across the Southeast Kootenay District are set to open on Monday (June 1), after the province suspended in-class learning over two months ago due to concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19.

District staff have been working to ensure that any reopening plans follow guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education and adheres to the public health orders.

Each school will have individual reopening plans, based on estimated enrolment following feedback from surveys the district conducted with parents, according to Jason Tichauer, the Safe Schools Coordinator for School District 5.

Tichauer said the survey response was ‘overwhelming’ with close to 3,000 replies within 24 hours. That feedback was used to help the district formulate each school’s reopening plans, he said.

For example, one high school in the Elk Valley is projecting a return of 75 per cent of the student body, while an elementary school in the same region is only anticipating a 10 per cent return.

“There are some different school plans, but they’re different because of the volume of kids that they have,” Tichauer said. “We have some pretty strict guidelines around how many kids can be in each classroom, around how many kids can be in buildings at a time.”

The province is working off a plan that features five incremental stages on a spectrum that goes from full suspension of in-class learning to a full reopening five days a week. Right now, the province is moving to Stage 3, which means in-class instruction for up to three days a week for Kindergarten to Grade 5 students, and one day a week for Grades 6-12.

For all grade levels, remote and online instruction remains an option, if parents do not wish to send their kids back to school.

However, reopening schools does not mean the entire student body is returning on any one single day of the week.

For in-class instruction, provincial guidelines stipulate that no more than 50 per cent of the student body for Kindergarten to Grade 5 can be in a school building at any given time. For Grade 6-12, that student population percentage limit is 20 per cent.

“So it is really impacting school plans because the number of kids that they have requires them to approach things differently,” said Tichauer, adding some creative timetables are being scheduled in order to adhere to the health and educational guidelines.

The district is focusing on four priorities as schools reopen, which include maintaining a healthy and safe environment for students and staff, providing support to children of essential services workers, supporting vulnerable students who may need specialized assistance and providing continuity of educational learning opportunities.

Though the bulk of in-class instruction has beeen suspended since mid-March, schools have been open five days a week for children of essential service workers and vulnerable students.

Unless further direction comes from the province, Tichauer is anticipating that the new Stage 3 protocols will last until the end of the school calendar year, before heading into the traditional summer break.

“There’s not an early dismissal or anything like that,” he said. “Our elementary schools would go right until the end of June like they usually do. There will be report cards. We have to remember that three-quarters of the year was done before we went into spring break — or at least when we came out of it — and there is a mandate from the provincial government to have report cards.”

Reopening schools in June, even though it may be only for a few weeks, allows district staff to understand the logistics and challenges that may be faced if existing COVID-19 concerns and restrictions remain when a new academic year starts next September.

“This gives school systems an opportunity to try out different things, to test, to see what models they can put in place if we have to do this again in the fall,” Tichauer added.

Any parents with questions about reopening plans is encouraged to contact the school their child attends for clarity on attendance, scheduling or other matters, or visit the school’s website. Additional information provided by the district, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health is also available on the SD5 website.

The Mount Baker Secondary School Graduation Committee continues to work on holding a commencement ceremony after the latest plans involving a drive in event at Western Financial Place were scuttled due to updated restrictions from the province’s top health official.

An updated restriction from Dr. Bonnie Henry last week banned gatherings of over 50 vehicles, which runs contrary to a plan recently announced by the grad committee to hold a drive-in ceremony.

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