Special COVID-related federal education funding will help the New Westminster school district provide staff for online learning programs and install outdoor learning spaces at schools.
The New West district will receive slightly more than $2.5 million of the funding announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Aug. 26 to help school districts across the country deal with the return to class in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. That federal money is being dispersed in two chunks, with half coming to the district now and half in January.
That’s on top of the $488,000 the district previously received from extra COVID-19-related provincial funding announced in July.
Secretary-treasurer Bettina Ketcham brought a finalized plan for the federal money to the New Westminster school board at its Sept. 29 meeting. That money is designed to be spent in four main categories: learning resources and supports, health and safety, transportation, and before- and after-school care.
The district is directing nearly $1.68 million into learning resources and supports – the bulk of that being just shy of $1.29 million for teacher and support staffing. Most of that will help to support the district’s new online distributed learning program for kindergarten to Grade 8 students; some will also be used to add school yard supervisors to help accommodate staggered arrival/departure and break times at schools.
Just shy of $290,000 will be spent on technology to support online learning options, with another $100,000 directed towards school supplies. Ketcham noted the latter stemmed from concerns raised by the New Westminster Teachers’ Union about possible oversharing of supplies, especially in primary grades; the new funding will put more supplies in classrooms so students don’t have to share.
In the health and safety category, the district is earmarking $865,000 – of which $365,000 has been designated for three outside learning spaces at local schools. The money will cover the cost of three permanent outdoor steel structures at schools, with locations to be announced within a couple of weeks.
The next largest chunk of the health and safety funds, $325,000, has been designated for touchless faucets and a number of other capital upgrades designed to allow the district to have fewer touched surfaces in schools. Ketcham noted that money will help the district deal with COVID-19 and also allow it to upgrade school facilities at the same time.
A further $100,000 is set aside for health and safety supplies, such as personal protective equipment, Plexiglas barriers, disinfection sprayers and supplies for specific teachers’ medical accommodations. Another $75,000 is designated for increased electrical costs, since the district will be running its HVAC units for longer periods of time to increase fresh air intake into schools.
The district has also designated a small amount – only $6,000 – in the transportation category. Because the district doesn’t provide school buses for the general school population in the geographically small district, that money will be used to support students with special needs who are given transportation. It’s being used to help cover extra COVID-19-related bus cleaning costs.
The district opted not to set aside any of the money for the fourth category, before- and after-school care – something that was raised as an issue by trustee Maya Russell at the board’s operations committee meeting on Sept. 15.
At the Sept. 29 meeting, Ketcham said the district has a “whole host of priorities” for the funding and has had to prioritize the money to support students in both online and bricks-and-mortar programs.
The federal money comes on top of the previously announced $488,000 in provincial COVID-19-related funding. That money has allowed the New West school district to hire five more custodians, install 30 portable pump wash stations and new sinks across the district, stock up on cleaning supplies for the year, and provide face masks and face shields for employees and students. It also includes more than $25,000 in funding for technology to provide devices and software for students who need them to pursue online learning.