Keven Elder, superintendent of schools for School District 69 (Qualicum), is busy working with the rest of the board to figure out exactly what fall will look like for the area.
Education Minister Rob Fleming announced that most students would be returning to class come September. Specifics of the overall plan will not come until later – once they can better predict the state of COVID-19 come the school year. So far, it’s been announced that students will be divided into bubbles, with each bubble having a maximum number of 60 children for the elementary school level and 120 for high school. Since then, districts across the province have been working on their individual plans for back to school.
So far, the district has had meetings with vice-principals and principals from across the district, their district management group. Elder said they were meeting with the medical health officer for the region on Aug. 5. Part of the planning is also hearing from parents and taking their concerns into account.
“Already hearing from a large number of parents that they have concerns about going back into school, even with the assurances of the provincial health officer that this cohort model will provide for some measure of comfort,” said Elder.
Parents who don’t feel comfortable with whatever model SD69 ends up using do have options. Elder said the Collaborative Education Alterative Program, the school’s distributive learning program, will expand as necessary.
“We have a number of parents already inquiring as to registering their children with distributed learning through CEAP, so we respect that request and we’re supporting it for people who want to do that,” he said. “And CEAP will grow as much as it needs to and we’ll staff it accordingly as people choose that option rather than neighbourhood school… and then they may choose to come back to their neighbourhood school post-COVID, whenever that is.”
As far as decisions that need to be made, Elder said a big question is how to organize cohorts, as well as ensuring that all health and safety protocols are in place for those groups. A big part of the puzzle is figuring out secondary school student schedules and how to try to accommodate the classes they originally chose for course selection. He said it might look like doing some classes, like theatre, in a physically distanced way.
“We don’t know if that’s possible, we don’t know if it will be possible for students to retain all of the courses that they chose because if we have to reorganize in cohorts of 120, that cohort of 120 can only have so many options available to it,” he said.
He said the school being open for a short time in June was a good learning experience in how to keep schools safe and is informing their decision making now.
“These are COVID times and there’s a lot that we have to do that we’d rather not be doing as adults for children, but that’s one of the prices to pay of being in a pandemic environment and the main thing for us is keeping kids in cohorts of less than 60 [for the elementary level] by having two classes interact with each other, but not beyond that,” said Elder.
Elder said the plan will be out in coming weeks to allow time for parent and student feedback, with the required date for districts to have their plan being Aug. 26.