New West is getting set for a return to classrooms next week – but it’s not going to be school as usual.
Elementary school students (kindergarten to Grade 5) are being offered a 50% return, while middle school and high school students are being brought back into classrooms for a 20% schedule.
For elementary students, that means half-days five days a week, while middle schoolers will get two half-days each week. At New Westminster Secondary School, schedules have been set up to give students access to their teachers by grade and subject area over the course of the week.
Existing child-care learning centres for children of essential workers will continue to operate and will now be expanded to include teachers' families. Existing plans to help vulnerable students and those with special needs will also continue.
For the rest of the student population, at all levels, the choice about whether to have students return to school is being left up to families.
“Our remote learning will continue to take place for all learners, irrespective of what choice parents make for their children,” school district superintendent Karim Hachlaf noted at the May 28 school board meeting. “This is an optional return, so parents may well indeed keep their child at home and continue with the remote learning option.”
For those who do go back to class, much will be changed from how schools looked before spring break, when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
The school district has provided parents with extensive information about what schools will look like in June for those who do go back. Here are some highlights:
HOW WILL SCHOOLS CONTROL THE NUMBER OF STUDENTS?
School schedules have been set so that a limited number of students are in the school at any given time (meeting the 50% guideline for elementary schools and 20% for middle and high school students). Schools will offer staggered start and pickup times, and children will head into school immediately upon arrival, during their start-time window, to avoid having them congregate on school grounds.
If any school or classroom has attendance that exceeds the guidelines, the school district will adjust schedules accordingly (for instance, by splitting up one elementary school division into separate morning and afternoon sessions if required, or splitting one classroom over two rooms).
Parents must indicate their child’s attendance in advance (parental surveys for the week of June 1 were due back by 5 p.m. on May 27). No “drop-in” students will be allowed. Parents who opt out of the first week will still be able to contact their school principal and have their child return in the second week (June 8) or any subsequent week, as desired.
HOW WILL SCHOOLS MAINTAIN PHYSICAL DISTANCING?
Besides having a reduced number of children in each classroom, desks will be rearranged as needed to provide space between children. Lessons won’t include partner or group work, as they previously might have.
Additional staff will be assigned to direct parent and student traffic into and out of the school.
Assemblies and other large events will be modified as needed, or held virtually where possible.
Physical activity will take place outdoors whenever possible, and teachers will modify break times as needed to minimize contact.
HOW WILL SCHOOLS MAINTAIN CLEANLINESS STANDARDS?
Custodians will be on site in schools during the day, and all schools will follow mandated cleaning guidelines. That will mean daily cleans of each classroom, and repeated cleaning and disinfecting of “high-touch” surfaces – such as doors and bathroom taps – during the day. After instructional hours, custodians will then deep-clean in preparation for the next day.
Items that are challenging to disinfect – such as, for instance, soft toys – will be removed, and lessons will be modified to reduce the use of shared objects.
Paper and textbooks will remain in use, as the provincial health officer has noted there is no evidence that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted via paper surfaces.
WHAT EXTRA HEALTH PRECAUTIONS ARE BEING TAKEN?
Besides the cleanliness protocols mentioned above, schools will also be taking other precautions – such as shutting down water fountains and reminding students not to share their water or snacks with friends.
Parents are required to conduct a health assessment of their child each day before school; no child with symptoms of a cold, flu or other respiratory infection will be allowed in class (see related story here).
Each school will have a designated isolation space. If a child starts to show symptoms during the day, s/he will be moved into the isolation space and parents will be called to pick up their child as soon as possible.
WILL MASKS BE REQUIRED?
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is not required by the provincial health and safety authorities, and general use is not recommended.
Students and staff may choose to wear their own PPE if they’d like to.
HOW IS THE SCHOOL DISTRICT SETTING ITS COVID-19 POLICIES?
Superintendent Karim Hachlaf noted the district is following the requirements laid out by four authorities: the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the B.C. Ministry of Health, the B.C. Ministry of Education and WorkSafeBC.
And he also pointed out that the district will be staying vigilant as the month unfolds, and changing its operations if and when required.
“As we adjust to this different environment, we will continue of course to monitor and adjust our needs and guidelines as we progress over the month of June,” he said.
For more on the school district’s return-to-class plans, see https://newwestschools.ca/covid-19-info-centre/