More students in SD 51 - Boundary may be returning to classrooms after June 1, after the province announced a plan last week to offer part-time in-class learning to students before the end of the school year. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

School District 51 staff iron out plan for return to classrooms

Teachers are looking for a comprehensive health and safety plan to be in place before June 1

After two months of interacting with their teachers and friends through technology, students in SD 51 – Boundary will soon have the chance to see some of the classmates in person.

Last week, Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming announced that B.C. would look to open up in-class learning for K-12 students, starting June 1. In the May 15 announcement, the government emphasized that a return to schools would be voluntary for families.

The announcement spurred district officials to get working on an operating plan to submit to the province for approval by May 25. Staff in the district will also be looking for some particular details in hygiene and protection to be outlined, now finding more questions as provincial policy gets laid out.

“We’re looking at a full heath and safety plan that would address things such as adequate social distancing of both staff and students, and understanding the guidelines that were put out by the ministry that will look different for different ages of students because the younger the kid, the harder social distancing is,” said Norm Sabourin, the local president of the Boundary District Teachers’ Association.

“I would hope there’ll be some serious messaging from this point to June 1 to really makes it clear to parents that are planning to send their kids in, what it will look like and what all the parameters will be,” the union representative said, noting that he also wanted to discuss with the district a policy for what happens if students refuse to comply with health and safety measures.

Sabourin, Janet Thorpe of CUPE 2098 (representing school support staff, education assistants and other district positions), and district managers are meeting this week to hash out a plan to guard against the spread of COVID-19 on school grounds and to make staff feel safe to return to work.

“The longer you’ve been at home, the bigger the leap of faith is,” said Ken Minette, superintendent of SD 51. Teachers in the district were given the option to work from home after spring break.

To aid in encouraging physical space in schools, the province said the goal is to bring K-5 students in for half of the learning week, while the target for students in grades six to 12 sits at one day of in-class learning per week.

But while half-full classrooms may make keeping things distant and clean a bit easier, both Minette and Sabourin acknowledged that the district will have to figure out how to manage teachers’ workloads, given that they will still have students requiring remote instruction.

“I’m hearing that many teachers are putting in more hours in a day in this remote learning situation than they would in a regular classroom, because they’re trying to accommodate schedules at home as much as possible,” Sabourin said.

“The biggest wonder every single school district has is how are we going to manage two types of teaching,” Minette said. Understanding that some teachers in higher-risk groups may be reticent to return to school, the superintendent said that all parties would look at how those employees could be used to perhaps take on some of the remote workload.

Before anymore students return to class, Sabourin said, he wants to make sure staff have adequate time to get informed and trained on a health and safety plan, and that concerns over who cleans what, how often are settled.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of questions that need to be addressed,” Sabourin said May 17. “And I know that we are going to, as our two union groups and the district management, get going on that this week.”

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. schools to being part-time class instruction June 1


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