SD79 has released its plan for health and safety in the 2020-21 school year. (Citizen file)

SD79 reveals COVID-19 safety plan

Plan includes learning groups, masks required for secondary students when distancing not possible

School District 79 revealed its plan on Wednesday for returning to school in September under COVID-19 restrictions.

In-class instruction will resume on Sept. 10, two days after staff return for orientation to new health and safety procedures. According to a letter to parents from superintendent Robyn Gray, students will be gradually transitioned during their first days at school to make sure they are familar with the protocols.

“We know that it is vitally important that they come back to a safe, well-organized school and be received in a warm, caring, and welcoming way,” Gray said. “This year will look substantially different than those in the past, and my previous letters have outlined the processes we are undertaking to ensure a safe return to school for everyone.”

SD79 is putting an emphasis on face-to-face learning, where students have the support of teachers, other staff and peers around them, Gray explained.

“Last spring, some of our students had great success in a hybrid model of learning provided by our schools, however many did not fare as well,” she said. “This is why we have worked hard to align with provincial guidelines and maintain safe and caring school environments that will focus on foundational skills, social-emotional development, mental health, and enhancing our compassionate communities. Our plans encompass all the things we care about as a society, as well as provide tools to prepare our learners for a world they will create.”

The district’s plan for the coming school year follows the latest information procided by the BC Centre for Disease Control, Provnicial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and WorkSafeBC.

Schools are considered “controlled environments” in that they have a comprehensive set of safety measures in place and a limited group of people accessing the building, the majority of which are children. Elementary students will be put in “learning groups” consisting of no more than 60 people (students and staff). Larger secondary schools will move from a semester system to a quarter system, with learning groups anchored by electives. Some electives may not be available due to difficulties in physical distancing or maintaining learning groups. Chemainus Secondary and Quamichan School will have their own learning group plans.

Kindergarten to Grade 9 students will have the option of enrolling through distance learning through The Grove, part of the Cowichan Valley Open Learning Centre. Blended learning options will also be offered for families with unique situations such as immune suppression, families who meet the distance learning profile, or families interested in programs that respond to their unique set of family values and are aligned with the District Programs’ Learning Principles.

Masks will be required for all staff and secondary students when physical distancing is not possible outside of learning groups. Masks will not be required for elementary students, but the district has purchased two non-medical reusable masks for all students and staff members. Regular handwashing will be encouraged, and new portable handwashing stations will be installed, while hand sanitizer will be available in every classroom and at school entry points.

Electrostatic cleaners will be used outside of school hours along with a disinfectant approved by Health Canada as one of the most effective against COVID-19.

Families are encouraged to make alternate arrangements rather than busing, but buses will still be running for those who need it, with many protocols in place for driver, students and parents to follow.

Hoping to accommodate more students and parents, the district has also developed two new programs for learners. The Inquisitive Design and Technology Program, in which students develop solutions to problems through effective use of technology, will be offered at Drinkwater Elementary and Lake Cowichan School. A “blended learning clan” model will be offered at Mill Bay Nature School, for five- to 13-year-old students structured on individual learning plans focusing on developing the core competencies, and requiring consistent, engaged participation by teachers, learners and parents.

“The Board is incredibly proud of all the hard work that has gone into the Return to School plans,” said Board of Education chair Candace Spilsbury. “We know that teachers, support staff, and principals and vice principals are ready to welcome back their students. We know that schools are the best place for our learners. From their foundational skills to their social – emotional learning, students do best when in school and we’re proud to offer a safe and welcoming space for them.”

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