While elementary school students shouldn’t see many changes as the 2020-21 school year starts, education will be different for secondary students, says Nanaimo Ladysmith school district’s superintendent.
According to the B.C. Ministry of Education, school districts are required to post their COVID-19-conscious back-to-school plans online by today, Aug. 26 and Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools says it will offer in-class instruction, remote learning and support for home-schooling. In a post on YouTube last Friday, Scott Saywell, school district superintendent and CEO, said high school students won’t be on the semester system.
The ministry previously announced that students would receive instruction in learning groups, or cohorts, with a maximum of 60 students for elementary and 120 for secondary.
In the social media post, Saywell said the semester system wouldn’t allow for secondary students learning groups under 120 students. The school district would prefer flexibility in moving in and out of various provincial COVID-19 stages as the threat grows and shrinks.
Instead, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools, like most other school districts in the province, will be moving to a ‘quarterly’ system that will see students taking two classes at a time over 10 weeks, four times during the school year. There will be one class in the morning and another in the afternoon.
“That’ll run for 10 times a week and then they will shift into the next two classes and of course, that will happen four times over the year, so that students can get their full complement of eight courses,” Saywell said.
According to the district restart plan document, secondary students will see break time and time in-between classes staggered “based on grade level and 120 learning group numbers.”
Because of the way the district is typically set up around elementary and middle school classrooms, which include fewer than 30 students, Saywell said younger students “won’t see much change when they return to school.”
The district recently received $1 million in funding from the ministry to ensure schools across the district are safe, said Saywell, and a majority of that will go towards hiring custodial staff, as well as cleaning supplies and a personal protective equipment for students and teachers, with 35,500 reusable masks and 15,000 disposable masks ordered by the district. Students can also bring their own masks.
Masks will be a requirement of all secondary staff and students in high-traffic areas, such as hallways and school buses or areas where safe distancing cannot be achieved, according to the restart plan. Elementary students will not be required to wear a mask, but can if they desire.
Denise Wood, Nanaimo-Ladysmith teachers’ union president, told the News Bulletin she is concerned for elementary school students as she said there are no protections other than hand-washing.
“They have an idea that the cohort system is going to protect people from catching the virus and that’s not what the cohort system does,” said Wood. “What [it] does is allow for easier contact tracing because if someone should get sick, then theoretically, they’ve only had contact with the people in their cohort … if I am a family, and I have two students who go to school, they’re going to be in different cohorts, chances are. So those kids aren’t physically distancing when they leave the school. If I’m a high school student and I have a girlfriend or boyfriend or even another close friend that’s not in my cohort, chances are those kids are not physically distancing when they leave school. It’s a flawed system.”
Students will be seated one per seat on school buses, although students from the same household can share if buses are crowded.
Dale Burgos, school district spokesperson, said there are opportunities for families to use distributed learning via the district’s Island ConnectEd program. Saywell said the district won’t limit the number of students choosing distributed learning.
Wood is worried for distance education teachers, as she said there are no workload limits.
“The district is under no obligation to hire more teachers for distributed learning and that’s going to be be problem because kids in DL don’t count for funding until they have completed a certain percentage of the course…” she said. “So I predict that students are not going to get the level of service that they’re hoping to from DL because the staffing certainly won’t be there in the beginning.”
The first day of school for students, originally scheduled for Sept. 8, has been pushed back to Sept. 10 and 11, said the superintendent, to allow staff time to become acclimatized to safety procedures.
“They’ll be getting their timetables and learning about all the new health and safety protocols at that time,” Saywell said.