The Kamloops-Thompson school board has unanimously approved the district’s plan to resume in-class instruction on a part-time, voluntary basis to close out the 2019-2020 school year.
The board gave its rubber stamp during Monday’s meeting and the plan will now be sent to the Ministry of Education for final approval. The ministry has tasked all school districts with creating plans to return to partial in-class instruction as B.C. begins reopening various sectors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning June 1, students in kindergarten to Grade 5 can return to their classrooms two days per week for instruction, while students in grades 6 through 12 will spend one day a week in class.
Student populations from kindergarten to Grade 5 will be 50 per cent of normal, while there will be 20 per cent of students in grade 6 through 12 classes attending at one time.
Teachers have been back in schools since May 19, preparing for the return and learning health and safety guidelines. All schools in School District 73 are expected to reopen.
SD73 Supt. Alison Sidow told KTW Mondays will be dedicated to online instruction for all grades throughout the district, except for students of essential service workers, who are currently attending their regular schools five days a week.
K-5 classes will be split into two cohorts — group A attending Tuesdays and Wednesdays and group B dropping in Thursdays and Fridays.
“If you have a Grade 4 class with 26 students, on Tuesday, Wednesday, we could have up to 13 students and on Thursday, Friday we’d have up to 13 students,” Sidow said.
Trish Smillie, assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools, told trustees students in grades 6 through 12 will have an assigned schedule for attending school once a week between Tuesdays and Fridays.
Grade 6 students in 5/6 split classes will have the option of joining their younger classmates one day per week.
Smillie said the number of returning students at this point varies greatly from school to school, but added once busing options are finalized, SD73 expects a shift in enrolment.
Sidow told KTW approximately 50 per cent of K-5 students are returning to school part-time, but those numbers are still being finalized.
Protocols in place
Schools will have a number of protocols in place for when part-time classes resume, including a strict policy to stay home if sick.
Large gatherings of staff and students won’t be permitted and physical-distancing guidelines will be in place during recess, lunch and when people are entering and leaving buildings, Smillie said.
Throughout the district, desks are being spaced apart and students will not share desks or supplies, Sidow told KTW.
Cleaning regiments of surfaces and facilities will be in place and directional markers will line hallways to keep students apart.
“Most importantly, there’s a health check for all students before they enter school,” Sidow said.
Students will need to declare if they have a fever, cough or any other symptoms similar to COVID-19 and staff will sign off on completed safety checks of students.
Sidow said temperature checks won’t be conducted as the district is relying on staff and parents to report any symptoms.
Any student with symptoms will be isolated in the school until they can be picked up by a family member and sent home to isolate for two weeks. Smillie said adolescent students will be asked to practise physical distancing, while focus among younger students will be on minimizing contact.
“And, of course, we’re continuing to focus on hand-washing and respiratory etiquette,” Smille said.
Educators will only be provided personal protective equipment in the event of conducting tasks that brings them in close contact with students.
“We have some students who require personal care and other such supports,” Sidow said.
Drivers will be wearing shields as students board and exit the bus. Plexiglass shields will not be installed on the buses. Further protection will include enhanced physical distancing, with one student per seat, unless students are from the same family. The first row of seats closest to the driver will remain empty and alternate seats elsewhere will be used.
Sidow said she anticipates playgrounds being open for recess, but is also looking to ensure that is done in conjunction with local municipalities.
Students who remain online will have less contact with their teachers in June than those attending in-person classes, but educators are to touch base with those students at least twice per week.
“Families who choose the online option will likely receive less contact than they’ve had currently because teachers are now doing face-to-face instruction,” Sidow said.
Students continuing with online learning will receive their instructions each Monday, with follow-ups to occur before the weekend, which teachers will need to fit in between in-person classes.
Students returning to class part-time will have work to complete on their off days.
Sidow said whether video conferencing applications like Zoom — a commonly used tool for remote learning during the pandemic — will be used now to bring online learners into the classroom is a decision left to each teacher.
Asked about teachers who may feel uncomfortable returning to the classroom, Sidow said anyone with health considerations will be accommodated, but added that if a teacher is merely worried about entering buildings, SD73 will try to assure them of safety protocols implemented.
However, teachers still not wishing to return can opt for an unpaid leave of absence.
“If everybody assumes responsibility and follows those guideline, there is very, very low risk,” Sidow said.
The return to schools plan was developed in consultation with the Kamloops-Thompson Teachers’ Association and CUPE 3500, Sidow said.
Sidow said that while not all parents are ready to have their children return to the classroom, there are those who are and it’s important to have a system in place ahead of the 2020-2021 school year in September, as the future of the pandemic remains unclear.
“We’re hearing there is the potential for there to be a second wave [of COVID-19], so this [plan] is preparing us for whatever the future brings,” Sidow said, noting SD73 needs to be able to offer face-to-face instruction and transition to online learning as needed.
Students have been learning online since the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March. For many students, it will be their first time learning in the classroom since leaving classes for spring break.