Young children of essential workers in Coast Mountains School District 82 (SD82) may be able to return to the classroom this week, with others on a limited basis next month.
B.C.’s Ministry of Education outlined a phased-in approach to resuming in-class learning May 6, to which SD82 has been developing a plan it will begin rolling out Wednesday with qualifying children of essential workers in Grades K to 7.
“We’ll have a very low adult to student ratio, a minimal number of children….maybe 10 kids in a room with three adults,” said SD82 acting superintendent Janet Meyer. Staff will be a mix of teachers and support workers, which includes educational assistants and surface cleaners, all of whom are now undergoing orientation for what will be an unorthodox learning environment.
“It will be scaled back, because we’ll have a diversified group of learners,” Meyer said. “We could have students anywhere from K to [Seven]. They will bring work assigned by their classroom teacher, and the educator in the room will be there to support their learning.”
B.C. schools were closed March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, marking Stage 5 of a phased-in approach to the eventual resumption of regular classes, which will be the final phase, or Stage 1. B.C. school districts are currently in Stage 4, where in-class learning is available only for children of essential workers and vulnerable students.
Essential workers are defined by Emergency Management BC as those considered critical to preserving life, health and society functioning, including emergency responders, front-line health care workers, and critical infrastructure and supply chain workers.
In order to keep attendance numbers low, the school district is asking qualifying parents and guardians to exhaust all other options for support before applying for their children’s in-class eligibility. An application form is available on the SD82 website.
Essential workers able to work from home, or have family members aged 13 and older who can care for younger siblings, may be ineligible.
Details are available on the SD82 website.
Within the next three weeks the school district will also be inviting all Grades K to 5 back to the classroom on a voluntary, part-time basis.
“We need some time to first get some direction on what that will look like, and put some safety protocols in place for our staff and students,” Meyer said. “We will be asking parents in the near future if they are planning on sending their children to school, because we need that information to support our planning.”
Once that’s in place vulnerable students from Grades 6 to 12 will be selected for in-school learning on a reduced part-time basis. Vulnerable students are defined by several criteria, including Grade 12 students struggling to meet graduation requirements, and students in any grade whose home environment is not ideal for learning due to a number of factors.
Meyers said the school district is working collaboratively with its partners to develop further in-school plans as the province moves from Stage 4 to 3, at the discretion of the Ministry of Health.
President of the Terrace District Teachers’ Union, Michael Wen, said the organization has been in regular communication with the school district on the roll-out of in-class instruction, but deferred back to SD82 for any details on what current and future plans might look like for teachers and students.
“Whenever I’ve raised concerns on behalf of my members, Janet’s been right on it,” he said.
“What we’re concerned about is that accurate information gets out to parents and teachers. So anything that’s only in the planning stage I don’t want to reveal, because it might change,” he said. “But the communication is there, the dialogue is there.”