The operative word is still “fluid.”
But, at the same time, many elements attached to the re-opening of the schools in the South East Cornerstone Public School Division (SECPSD) indicate people will become more comfortable with the plans as they roll out implementation.
“Of course things will look a bit different, but within a week or two (of the school year opening) we believe staff and students will begin to become more comfortable with the situation,” said Lynn Little, director of education for the SECPSD during an interview.
It appears as if the pervasive belief is that various team leaders will be able to be prepared to re-enter school facilities for face-to-face learning experiences with their teachers in the division’s 37 facilities. It’s something they haven’t experienced for the past five months.
If parents choose not to have their children be in a desk in the classrooms, there always is the division’s well recognized Cyber Stone virtual classrooms they can register in, or, participate in a homeschooling program with school division support. Cyber Stone has been expanded to include a full kindergarten to Grade 12 offering.
“If students or staff wish to wear a mask, we are most supportive of that. We have ordered masks for some purposes such as for support for those who may develop symptoms while at school for both students and staff. We have masks and shields for staff providing personal care for students. If the Level 2 order comes down for masks for all students and staff, then options become mandates,” said Little.
In other words, things are still fluid on some topics regarding the re-start.
The province has ordered six million masks for overall provincial needs, if required, and Little said Cornerstone had ordered and received some of their supply earlier, but added they are well aware of an all-inclusive masking plan that could be evolving as more information is released on a nearly daily basis.
Cyber learning is being handled in a fashion that has become familiar with both staff members and students.
A total of 4.5 full-time equivalent teaching positions have been added to the Cornerstone roster of about 550 educators. They were needed to help meet the growth in Cyber Stone as elementary grades are now being offered online as well as junior high and high school classes. Registration forms are available on the system website for Cyber Stone School.
If parents choose to have their children continue enrollment in the physical school they were previously attending, there is no need to re-register.
So far, all staff members under contract will be physically available for the start of the new school year on Sept. 1.
“Staff seem to be on board, but certainly there is some apprehension, to return to the physical setting. Implementing the plan designed to increase safety by minimizing contacts, building stable cohorts and limiting movement will take a bit to get accustomed. We anticipate becoming more comfortable with our new normal once we get used to it,” said Little.
Little added the provincial leaders understand they are dependent on the division administrators knowing their school facilities and personnel. They know the sizes, structures and population at each school and what grades are taught in each building.
“If they (students and staff) can stay within their cohorts, things should go well. In larger schools with the structure of time tables and more student and teacher movements, the move to cohorts will be significantly more challenging and a different way of doing business. In elementary schools, and schools with a smaller student population, it will be less of a change, but still, there will be new challenges to keep students in specific groups and the early learners working with grouped materials,” she said.
Little admitted that when school systems shut down quickly with the assured arrival of the COVID-19 virus in mid-March, teachers and students were still able to interact and they enjoyed the advantage of knowing one another and what the expectations would be for online/distance learning. But now, a new school year is going to start and without face-to-face introductions, it would have been more difficult for teachers and students to introduce themselves to one another for the first time and become comfortable with the individual personalities.
That is best done in the social setting of a school classroom.
Plans are being formulated to assist students requiring learning supports and for early learning intervention exercises that will be deployed to ensure success for each and every student.
Little said plans for custodial and maintenance staffs are rolling out with regards to cleaning high touch areas and the facilities team along with human resources are mapping and finalizing plans to deal with cleaning rooms between classes, washrooms and additional sanitization processes.
Of course, this will require money, but there were some savings involved with the early closure of schools in the spring, so that money will now be spent in meeting new expectations.
On the transportation side, Little said communications are going out to rural families, asking them if, in some instances, the children can be driven to school by family. If not, buses are still operating as usual, but with strict seat assignments, with family members seated together as physical distancing will be encouraged. The buses will be loaded using a back to front system to reduce exposure. Bus riding within the more urban areas will be reduced as well with a new one kilometre directive being issued.
In other words, if the student’s residence is located within one kilometre of the school they attend, they will be asked to walk, bike or be driven by family or through some other arrangement. Bus service will be limited to those who reside more than one kilometre from their school. Attendance on buses will be taken in the event contact tracing is required.
Other new rules or guidelines are being built to accommodate laboratory experiences, physical education, team participation, vocational learning areas, play areas and other spaces.
“We try to eliminate exposure in most cases and it’s different, for sure,” said Little.
When it all comes together, there will be no firm guidelines regarding future closure in the event one or two students or staff members come down with the virus. Those situations will be dealt with on a school-by-school, family-by-family, community-by-community basis and directed by the Ministry of Health.
If this happens, and Little said, the chances are it may, since they are dealing with well over 10,000 people in total, the system will work closely with their partners in Health. Decisions will be made based on what is best for the entire Cornerstone family and community at large.