Most students in B.C. will be heading back to class full-time in September – but students at New Westminster Secondary School may not be among them.
The province of B.C. announced its school restart plan at a press conference on Wednesday, during which Education Minister Rob Fleming and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry laid out plans for having students return to full-time in-class instruction starting Sept. 8.
The just-announced plan represents a new Stage 2 in the province’s five-stage approach to education during COVID-19. Previously, Stage 2 had called for elementary students to be in class 100% of the time, with 40% in-class time for high school students.
The newly unveiled Stage 2 replaces those percentages with the idea of “learning groups,” or cohorts, which will be capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools. The province is defining a learning group as “a group of students and staff who remain together throughout the school quarter, semester or year and who primarily interact with each other.” (See more in sidebar below.)
The idea, Henry said, is both to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and to provide for easier contact tracing in the event that a case is identified.
Henry said plans for how the “learning groups” will roll out will vary from district to district and school to school. She also noted that B.C. has about 16 very large schools in its urban areas, with student populations of between 1,500 and 2,000, where the “learning group” model may pose logistical challenges.
One of those is NWSS.
Karim Hachlaf, superintendent of the New Westminster school district, said in a letter to parents this week that all high school students will return to in-class instruction in the fall, but more details will come later this summer on what exactly that will mean.
“As one of the largest high schools in the province, New Westminster Secondary School falls into the category of schools that will need to look at a variety of options to safely maximize in-class learning … and may need to offer a hybrid model that would include some remote or self-directed learning,” he said.
Hachlaf said the new model for Stage 2 was developed under the guidance of “many experts and stakeholder groups” and will continue to be relevant if the province needs to adjust to a different stage of its education plans at a later date. (See graphic for an explanation of the stages.)
What the “learning group” model will mean in real terms for New West students is now a work in progress. Hachlaf said the district will be looking at adjusting bell schedules and break times and implementing new distancing measures as it plans for the new requirements.
In a statement to the Record, Hachlaf said the district still has a great deal of work to do before fall.
“This (provincial) decision came faster than we had previously anticipated – thankfully giving us more time to properly plan and adjust for the many changes this will demand,” he said.
He noted in-class schooling won’t be business as usual.
“We still have a lot of preparation prior to September, and the coming year won’t look like any other before,” he said. “It will require us to channel innovative new ideas, to be open to thinking a little differently and to continue to work together. But heading into the year with this mindset and these plans in place will give us a level of control that will benefit everyone.”
Hachlaf said the district will be using the in-depth feedback provided by families and students through a survey in June to help refine its plans for September.
“As we act on the direction we’ve been given – and develop the best plan for New Westminster – we do so remaining committed to keeping the health and safety of kids, staff and families as our top priority, under the continued lead of the appropriate health and workplace-safety authorities,” his letter said.
The provincial plan also includes an extra $45.6 million provincewide for enhanced health and safety measures, including more cleaning, the hiring of more cleaning staff, additional hand-washing stations and the provision of reusable face masks for teachers and students on request.
Hachlaf said the New West district will be able to access some of those funds to support any new safety measures that may be needed in local schools.
Final plans for each school will be publicly available by Aug. 26.
The school district will continue to update its plans, as they become available, online at www.newwestschools.ca.
WHAT IS A LEARNING GROUP?
A Ministry of Education document sets out a variety of examples of what a “learning group” will look like.
Elementary schools will still be organized into classrooms as students’ primary environment.
Elementary schools will have the option to create “learning groups” of up to 60 students and staff who can interact more regularly, e.g. two classes that work together on shared projects, or up to three primary classes that go outside together on a regular basis.
Middle schools that follow an elementary school model (e.g. one classroom, one teacher) will be organized like elementary schools.
Middle schools that follow a “junior high” model (e.g. students move from class to class to take subjects from various teachers) will be reorganized to limit students to learning groups of no more than 60 students and staff.
Secondary school students will continue to be organized in classrooms, but timetables will be organized to limit students to learning groups of no more than 120 students and staff.
Students in one learning group might take some of their courses together and then take separate electives, where they would need to practise physical distancing from the students outside of their own learning group.
Some secondary schools may also reorganize to a system where students take two courses at a time for 10 weeks and then continue a rotation of two courses every 10 weeks.
Some schools may supplement with online, self-directed or remote learning where cohort and physical distancing strategies are not possible.
Secondary schools will be able to reorganize learning groups after each semester.
- Source Ministry of Education K-12 Restart Plan (updated July 29)