Fraser-Cascade School District (SD 78) are rolling out the September school re-start plans amid an ongoing pandemic. (Sarah Gawdin/Hope Standard)

Plans around SD78 school re-start begin to crystallize

District reaching out to families, Indigenous communities to find out readiness to return

Plans for how back-to-school in the Fraser Cascade will roll out are starting to crystallize, with a first public discussion on these plans had at an Aug. 20 school board meeting.

The biggest shift for the fall, said assistant superintendent Renge Bailie, is the change from a capacity to a cohort model.

The cohort or learning group model entails that students and staff are organized into a consistent group to reduce the risk of transmission. The numbers for each cohort, determined by the province, are up to 60 in younger grades and up to 120 in high school, this includes staff as well. “We’re relying really heavily on the principals’ ability to plan those things out,” Bailie said about how the cohorts will look in each school.

In the spring back-to-school plans, physical distancing was a clear guideline. With the cohort model, Bailie said coming into contact is almost inevitable.

“If you’re within the cohort, they definitely don’t want people coming into contact. But at the same time, they know it’s almost inevitable, especially with younger student,” she said.

There are strict rules governing how cohorts can and cannot interact with each other. And staff who work between schools or cohorts will be asked to take precautions such as physical distancing and wearing face masks and possibly some dividers put in place.

All SD78 staff, including on- call teachers and others including maintenance staff will undergo health and safety training Sept. 8 and 9.

Read more: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan

Parents will also be heavily involved, said superintendent Balan Moorthy, in monitoring how their children are feeling and when they should and should not be coming to school. This is one of the many considerations, as well as health and safety checks, monitoring the emotional health of students and monitoring student movement in hallways and during breaks, that school administration teams will discuss during the Sept. 8 and 9 training ahead of the restart.

The benefit of being a smaller school district, Bailie said, is that SD78 is able to manage the BC Centre for Disease Control and Worksafe BC requirements with only small tweaks such as staggered school starts or staggered recess and lunch breaks. Importantly, the smaller number of students also means no schools have said they need to have bussing schedules changed.

On the buses, if students are not in the same family ideally they will be able to sit separately said Bailie. “So the less kids on the bus, the more distancing that we can provide… One student per seat is ideal, with middle and secondary students masked and elementary students do not need to mask.”

The school district is also preparing for the possibility of once again conducting remote learning, depending on the public health situation and for students who may need to self-isolate or quarantine. Part of this is keeping students active on online platforms, and eventually moving the teaching to the Microsoft Teams software whereas some teachers now also use Google Classroom.

Detailed letters went out to the family of each student Aug. 21, explaining how the school re-start will look. These letters, Moorthy said, will cover everything from start times, what learning groups look like, student support, safety measures in the school, bussing and more.

Exactly how many parents will be sending their children to school is still to be determined, and Moorthy said principals will be connecting with each student over the next few weeks to find out their readiness to return.

“What this looks like, we don’t know yet, because we need to get the stats out for how many of our families want to bring their students back,” Moorthy said. “Obviously we want them to come back…we recognize that there’s going to be some fear, that we need to mitigate with, but we think that right now, considering where we are, having our children in schools with their teachers is a healthy and a safe place, as long as we continue to work on our safety guidelines.”

For families who are uncomfortable and don’t want to return, Moorthy said schools will need to adapt to ensure education continues for these children as well.

Options mentioned at the board meeting included online learning, some kind of hybrid format and the possibility, as other districts have done, of sending staff to Indigenous communities.

This planning also includes providing adaptations for students with disabilities or learning exceptionalities Moorthy said, aligning with their individualized education program.

“As usual, we’re going to have to build an airplane in the air and see what what sort of adaptations or hybrid models we can make for our kids,” Moorthy said.

For Indigenous communities, some of which may still be closed in response to COVID-19, Moorthy said the ministry has requested that the school district adapts education plans for them. Meetings on the school re-start are planned with all 12 of the district’s Indigenous communities over the next weeks, district documents read.

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