As the province moves towards a Phase 2 reopening for schools, every student from elementary to high school are expected to return. (Grand Forks Gazette file photo)

‘Health First’ leads planning for SD51 re-opening.

The province wants final plans by Aug. 26

School is set to start again in September, and kids are expected back in their classrooms, but what those classrooms will look is still uncertain.

“Health comes first,” said School District 51 superintendent Ken Minette. “We still want to do a great job with education, but health has to be the priority for all our students and staff. “

On July 27, the B.C. provincial government announced its plans to bring back all students from elementary to Grade 12, full-time starting Sept. 8.

Districts are still working out how those classes will function, with final plans to be sent to the government and made public by Aug. 26.

Part of the July 27 announcement indicated that students would be divided up into groups, including staff, of up to 60 for elementary schools and up to 120 for high schools. It’s a cohort model, that the government says would allow for better contact tracing and a reduced risk of transmission. With these groups, students would have staggered lunches and class schedules, to keep the groups as separate as possible while allowing time for cleaning.

“If we can do this and do this well, we can provide something that is a viable option instead of remote learning,” said Minette. “Which at the end of the day, it’s not meeting the needs of students socially and emotionally.”

One of the other ideas that are in the early stages of being discussed as a potential change for SD51, is going from semester-based classes to quarter-based. Within that system, students would have only two courses at a time instead of four, with the content concentrated into nine to 10 weeks.

It’s an option that has both benefits and drawbacks that are being weighed, such as the impact of attendance.

“Instead of students moving around four times, they’re moving around twice, which would reduce the risk of spreading,” said Minette. “But some students need longer to understand the information, and for them, the semester system is the better system. In a charter school where attendance is 100 per cent, it could work very well.”

Whether that change is one that is adopted will depend in part on the more specific guidelines the district will receive from the province in the next few days. Before a plan for the district can be put together, they are waiting for the final set of guidelines from the ministries of health and education.

SD51 will be receiving part of the $45.6 million from the province for maintaining cleaning and hygiene for local schools. In addition to more cleaning supplies, there will be masks available, as well as increased custodial time for ensuring rooms are sanitized.

The higher standards of cleanliness that have resulted from efforts to flatten the virus curve is something Minette hopes to see carried forward, as a way of making schools healthier even beyond the end of the current pandemic.

“If we continue some of those practices, flu season may not look as bad is it usually does.”

Letting the province set the guidelines, and following them to the letter, Minette hopes to establish a learning environment that parents can feel comfortable with.

“It’s very interesting times, but I think parents should feel reassured that we’re following the guidelines as presented by Dr. Bonnie Henry, who has made us a very successful province in managing COVID-19,” said Minette.

“I hope parents will have the reassurance that as we go back to school in September, we can do this successfully and in a safe way. “

The final plans for the district are required by the government to be submitted and posted online by Aug. 26 at the latest.

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