As Langley School District released its back to school plan, the provincial minister of education acknowledged that distance education may be needed for students whose families are reluctant to send them back.
The plan will govern the return to classes, which starts on Thursday, Sept. 10 for students. There will be two days of orientation before a full return to learning on Monday, Sept. 14.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said the plans were based on science-based public health advice.
“The number one layer of protection is keeping community transmission low in every region of British Columbia,” Fleming said.
Our Education Restart Plan has been approved by the Ministry. Please visit your school or District website to read the plan and an Information Bulletin from our Superintendent which highlights a virtual Town Hall Meeting on August 27: https://t.co/fFH0pUzebz #MySD35Community pic.twitter.com/72JTzUpkGY
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) August 26, 2020
“School is where kids learn with their peers, with teachers and teaching assistants, it’s where they grow,” said Fleming.
For others, it’s where they can be fed properly and get help from caring adults, the minister said.
Fleming said he was impressed with thoughtful local solutions developed by the 60 public school districts around the province.
However, he acknowledged that some families do not feel comfortable returning their students to schools.
Principals will be contacting each family to determine the family’s plan come Sept. 14.
“It is my expectation that school districts will be flexible,” Fleming said.
He said all districts will be authorized to create online options for parents who don’t send their children back to school.
“None of us have a crystal ball about where the pandemic will go,” Fleming noted at one point during the Wednesday announcement.
While Langley’s return plan was locally developed, it’s based on guidelines laid down earlier this summer by the province.
Some of the changes in the guidelines for all Langley public schools are small, such as a ban on outside homemade food being made available to staff or students.
Others include changes to the way students move around the school, including one-way halls, designated entrances or exits, or floor markings.
Parents may have to provide a daily health check form when dropping their kids off at school, or there may have to be daily verbal health checks for each student arriving.
While physical distancing is still a part of the plan, there is no mandated physical distancing within the learning groups.
“Those outside of a learning group must practice physical distancing when interacting with the learning group,” the Langley plan says.
Middle and secondary students have to maintain distance from schoolmates outside of their cohorts.
The Langley district plan says elementary students should “minimize physical contact when outdoors” for those in different cohorts, and “maintain physical distance (2 metres) when indoors).”
Learn more about our Education Restart Plan by joining us on Thurs Aug 27 for our online Town Hall Meeting. For info on taking part: https://t.co/nZEyawVY7H #MySD35Community pic.twitter.com/oeyYrKtf2r
— Langley Schools (@LangleySchools) August 27, 2020
Buses will still be running, with changes.
Students will be placed one per seat when possible. Buses will be loaded starting from the very back seats, and unloaded from the front, with students maintaining distance while boarding.
Drivers will be wearing face shields and masks while students board, then tip up the shield while driving to ensure they can see well.
Schools will undertake a general cleaning and disinfection at least every 24 hours, including desks and lockers. Frequently-touched surfaces like door knobs and light switches have to be disinfected at least twice a day.
The plan includes a full-page cleaning and disinfection checklist including drinking fountains (every hour), washrooms, staff rooms, and classrooms.
The B.C. Ministry of Education consulted with educators in New Zealand and Denmark about the return to school plans.
However, both of those nations had very different situations or responses in their schools.
In Denmark, school returned in the spring, but classes were reduced to 10 to 12 students and one teacher per class. Students had to wash their hands every hour and a half.
According to the Ministry of Education, Denmark’s example gave information on how to create a contained environment and how to stagger the arrival and departure of students.
New Zealand had a more normal return to school, but the island nation sent students back in a country where COVID had almost been extinguished. Students went back in the spring as cases were on the wane. Between June and August, New Zealand went more than 100 days without a positive case of infection, before the virus returned, leading to a small outbreak.
New Zealand’s contribution to B.C.’s plan included lessons on remote learning options and, because that country is in its winter right now, they saw that their measures decreased cold and flu season.
On Thursday, Aug. 27 the Langley School District is hosting an online town hall meeting where the community can learn more about the local restart plan and ask questions.
To view the full plan and learn how to access the meeting online visit the district’s website.