Langley School District’s board office. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley School District’s board office. (Langley Advance Times files)

Return to schools a big challenge for Langley, board hears

The district is looking at a partial return by June “at best”

The Langley school board got an update last week on the nitty-gritty of the challenges the district will face, if and when it begins opening classrooms again.

“Maybe” is the key word in getting back to class by mid-May noted Gord Stewart, the superintendent of schools, at the April 21 meeting, which was held remotely via Microsoft Teams.

He offered a list of considerations Langley and other districts are looking at before classes resume:

• What grade levels will be involved?

• Will there be shifts of students?

• How will students be transported?

• How can the district maintain cleaning standards?

• How will primary students maintain physical distance?

• How will access to buildings be handled?

• Will there be public confidence?

Stewart said that if schools were to suddenly open now, many parents would simply say no.

“Are they safe? We haven’t demonstrated that,” he said.

There are issues with running classes in shifts to reduce the numbers.

“Many parents communicated to me they don’t like half-days,” Stewart said.

Right now, with five sites open for just under 100 children of essential workers, staff can clean and sanitize well, the superintendent said. But what happens when there are 43 locations open.

Then there’s the issue of keeping very young children from getting too close.

“Physical distancing – how many kindergartners and Grade 1s are going to be able to stay away from each other?” Stewart said. “They like being around each other and crowding each other and touching each other.”

Stewart did not expect that schools will resume normal operations by the end of the current school year.

“You’ll be seeing some form of blended model, at best,” he said.

Despite these reservations, Stewart emphasized that learning has not stopped and will not stop.

“There will be a final grade issued for all of our kids, K through 12,” he said.

He also noted that the expected impact on international students – who contribute fees to the district – and on home sales taxes could seriously affect the local budget.

“Probably the most challenging budget that you’ve faced, and that I’ve faced,” Stewart said.

Schools are well-stocked with cleaning supplies and even hand sanitizer, with enough until the summer at least.

Trustees had questions about the impact of the unprecedented shutdown.

“I’m specifically concerned about the Grade 12 students,” said Trustee Shelley Coburn. “Learning calculus 12 online is a far cry from learning it in a classroom.”

That is why Grade 12s are one of the groups the province and district are looking at bringing back soonest, Stewart said.

Getting them back in the classroom for six to seven weeks would be a big help, he noted.