Planning is underway for the re-introduction of Prince Rupert students into classrooms for June 1, following the COVID-19 closure of schools.
A survey will be sent to the homes of students on May 19 to determine the number of pupils who will be returning to class, Irene LaPierre, superintendent of School District 52 said.
Once the surveys are completed and numbers are ascertained, return-to-class and safety plans will be prepared by SD 52 and sent to the Ministry of Education by May 25 for approval. Upon approval, SD 52 will send out guidelines to each school which can implement site specific plans for their students.
“There will be lots of questions. Once we know the numbers then plans can be made. We have only one week to get our plans together. There are lots of guidelines,” LaPierre said.
“We know there will be some stumbling blocks as some community day care providers are not ready to open,” LaPierre said, mentioning that the school district needs to work with their own staff requirements, who may need things such as child care.
Return to the classroom is voluntary and LaPierre said the district recognizes that some parents will not want to send their children back to school just yet, but some parents are ready depending on the family dynamics. If parents chose to keep students out of school, then at home and online learning will need to continue.
“I’m really glad it’s the parents choice to send their children back. It’s empowering for them.”
Parents will be relieved to learn that no work packages will be sent home if the children do return to class. At the moment, classes will be smaller and will be for a couple of hours a day, LaPierre explained. Middle school and high school will be slightly different, with smaller class sizes but students will be attending more like one whole a day a week.
School District 52 already has had some students back in class for the past few weeks. Priority learning students, diversity students and those of essential front line workers have been able to attend class, so once schools have their guidelines LaPierre said, the transition should be a smooth one.
“There needs to be equity in our learning. If we don’t provide learning opportunities there will be gaps with growth, so we need to provide those opportunities for success,” LaPierre said.
Success, however, is based on individual students own merits and the desire to succeed. There are some challenges she said, as the school district knows some students are not participating in the at home learning or utilizing on line education tools.
Some school districts do run summer schools. SD 52 does not. That means if a student does not participate in at home learning, they can not make up the lost credit during the summer. LaPierre said students will then have to enrol in self directed on line classes to pass.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has developed a five stage approach to operate schools, depending on the transmission risk of COVID-19, a press release said on May 15.
“Schools will also have plans in place for each stage, ensuring they are ready to make changes if there is a risk of transmission, a second wave or a community outbreak,” MOE said.
According to the press release, information from the BC Centre for Disease Control states the COVID-19 virus has a very low infection rate in children. As well, children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in child care facilities, schools or in community settings. Science and research show that children under 19 are at low risk of transmitting COVID-19 and suspending schools only has modest impacts in minimizing the spread of the virus.
Strict provincial health and work place safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 will be implemented, such as:
”* desks spaced apart and avoiding groups or gatherings of students in hallways or other common areas;
* regular cleaning of high-contact surfaces like door knobs, toilet seats, keyboards and desks at least twice a day, and cleaning the school building at least once a day;
* students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands before entering school property, and there will be more hand-sanitizing and cleaning stations available, with well-stocked supplies;
* staggered drop-offs, lunch and recess breaks, with increased outside time;
* staff and students (or their parents/guardians) must assess themselves daily for symptoms of COVID-19. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, arrangements will be made for that person to be returned home;
* one student per seat on school buses, unless children are from the same house, with plexiglass separating the bus driver from students; and
* students or employees should not share food or personal items like phones, pens or pencils. Clear protocols also need to be in place for the safe and healthy handling of all food items,”.
“As we look to create our new normal, reopening our schools to in-class learning is an important step,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer said.
“It will look different, but will be done in a way that is safe for everyone. I want to assure all the staff, students and families that we will face the challenges that come with this transition together – and we will do it in a measured and thoughtful way.”
“I’m hopeful, especially when we get the word from Dr. Bonnie Henry,” said LaPierre. “We trust her guidance. She’s everyone’s hero. Stay calm, be kind, stay safe. They are good words to live by.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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