School District 20 prepped and ready for schools to reopen

Students will return to school Monday with provincial pandemic protocols firmly in place

The opening buzzer will sound for BC students choosing to return to school on Monday, even if it is only for six days.

Premier John Horgan announced earlier this month that schools will reopen June 1. The province then provided comprehensive health and safety measures and tasked 60 School Districts throughout the province to prepare their plans by May 25.

“For us in School District 20, we met with our unions regarding that plan, our health and safety committees in the district have all met to review the plan and to make sure everybody understands that,” said Kootenay-Columbia superintendent Bill Ford.

SD 20 is made up of 10 schools including Greater Trail’s Fruitvale Elementary, Glenmerry Elementary, James L. Webster Elementary, J. L. Crowe Secondary, Rossland Summit School and the Kootenay-Columbia Learning Centre.

Teachers and staff returned to their respective schools Tuesday, May 26 to put their pandemic plan into action and prepare their classrooms.

“We had just finally hit our stride with the distance learning, teachers were really doing a great job of communicating with their students,” said SD 20 board chairperson Catherine Zaitsoff. “Then the province said, ‘We think we’re okay to open up the schools for a little bit more in June,’ so we had to switch directions.”

As outlined by the provincial health office, Grades 1-5 will return to school for two days per week and Grades 6-12 for one day, before schools close for summer holidays in three weeks. In all, that will be a total of six days for the younger students and three in-class days for the older grades.

“I think we need to look at it from a different perspective,” said SD 20 board chairperson Catherine Zaitsoff. “The social aspect will be really good, and a lot of students need that. And the connection with the teacher to help with any of the subjects they are doing, is going to be great.

“It’s not going to be the same kind of classroom we’re use to before spring break. So I think there is going to be some benefits, and a lot learned, and I think that those that go will definitely benefit, and those that choose not to will receive the same level of instruction that they were.”

The effort to reopen schools for such a short duration has prompted concerns and questions considering what the school districts’ teachers, students, and parents have already endured when they closed in March and transitioned to virtual learning, which will continue.

In addition, KCLC and Stanley Humphries have been open to students of essential workers and those with special needs since April.

“We’ve had three school startups this year,” said Ford. “We had our regular September school startup, after spring break we had our second school startup with the remote learning piece, and June 1 represents our third school startup, so it has been challenging.”

This past weekend, the school district asked families to complete a survey confirming their plans to send their child(ren) back to school Monday, and also provided a COVID-19 Bulletin outlining several FAQs regarding the resumption of in-class instruction.

According to Ford, approximately 50 per cent of respondents said they will send their children back to school in June, which coincidentally meets the new classroom capacity.

SD 20 also shifted all its custodial staff to work days, so the intensive cleaning measures can be met.

Busing may pose the greatest difficulty based on simple logistics, like determining how many students will need the service, to what schools, and on what day, while following the social distancing and sanitizing regimen.

“Families will get more information at the end of the week,” said Ford. “This is a big task for us and so they’ll need to continue to be patient, but we’ll sort it out as fast as we can.”

All safety and health measures will be managed by the district’s health and safety manager, and monitored at each school.

The challenges in the wake of the pandemic are many and varied, but for SD 20 schools, implementing those changes and adapting to the uncertainty during this difficult time with a limited staff has been demanding. Yet, Zaitsoff is pleased with the response from the district.

“It was a tremendous amount of work, our senior team has done an amazing job, but it’s been challenging. The plans had to be put in place and you had to make sure everyone there, staff and students, feel safe and are taken care of.

“It’s been challenging but a challenge they more than met.”

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