After the Government of Saskatchewan released more details on Level 2 back to school guidelines, Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division also updated their return to school plan 2020. They pointed out that safety and quality Catholic education remain their top priorities under Ministry level 2 guidelines.
The school division has contracted a team to guide their return to school safely. They also employed a behaviour consultant to help support students and partnered with local health authorities for efficient health communication and community health standardization.
Getting ready for the students’ arrival, Holy Family already has posted signage in schools to help all stay informed and operate safely and secured personal and other protective equipment and for staff and student use. Face masks are to be worn by staff and Grade 4-9 students in high traffic areas. The school division also purchased Health Canada approved chemicals and sanitizers for disinfecting as well as hand sanitizers for staff and students, created isolation rooms and protocols to help manage illness, increased caretaking time to allow for additional cleaning and disinfecting, and limited non-essential people in schools to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
They will be providing safety training to all staff prior to welcoming students on Sept. 1.
They will also further develop plans to limit physical contact during instruction, recess and noon hour. The division will remove clutter and unnecessary items to maximize classroom space to aid in social distancing and will also prepare instruction options for all students with particular attention to the needs of medically vulnerable students.
Detailed Return to School plans, specific to each school, will be shared with families in late August.Following the release of the provincial back to school protocol, school divisions started preparing for the return of school Sept. 1.
The Mercury talked to director of education Gwen Keith at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division about their plans and priorities for the new school year.
“Safety is of the big focus in our school division as we start the year off,” said Keith in the interview on Aug. 6. “Our theme for the year is ‘Live Mercy… Be Holy.’"
Since March, the priority for the division was “working safely, teaching safely and learning safely,” and that’s what they plan to continue doing, led by the provincial guidelines.
“For us, there are two key objectives … One is to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 by employing proactive measures, protocols and processes … Reducing the risk we can’t guarantee 100 per cent safety, but we are doing everything to reduce the risk of the transmission. And secondly, to continue to provide a quality Catholic education to our students with sensitivity to employee contract and workload,” said Keith.
While the government’s intention is to get back to school as close to normal as possible, there still will be quite a few changes comes September. And the schools have to be ready to react quickly if needed.
“We have secured direct involvement with the health experts so that the evaluation of our health and safety measure has been adjudicated by experts,” said Keith.
The school division went deep into analyzing the cleaning and sanitizing procedures and will bring in the product and practices that are the safest and the most effective. They also plan to have tight communication with the communities and the local health authorities to be able to efficiently problem solve in case of an outbreak.
Keith pointed out that each school will have a different experience in creating the new normal with physical distancing, sanitizing and other measures in place in a student-friendly manner.
The teachers were participating in co-planning of the back to school processes since last spring. The adults’ safety was one of the key priorities and the division tried to keep in mind different environments they have in schools and individual suggestions from employees.
In preparation for the new school year, the division also looked into potential emotional issues they may run into with the safety measures in place.
“We’ve hired additional staff in the emotional and behavioural area just to be able to work in more detail and with more sensitivity to that living of mercy and how it is that we can support people as we resettle and reset,” said Keith.
The division tried to build the plan on an idea that they have to be able to quickly pivot if the Ministry of Education directs them to move to another level of operation as outlined in provincial guidelines. And while a lot of work is already completed, a significant part still needs to be done as the schools will need to educate staff, parents and then students to the best of their knowledge about the spread of the virus and the best practices that would allow reducing the risks.
“There is certainly lots of work to do, but our pathways are clear, other steps are in place. We just need to get this job done through people,” said Keith. “And we have to be significantly aware of the diversity of how people’s mindsets are, what is their view of what this is, what are their confidence and worries about it and seek to understand them.”
Holy Family had fairly robust feedback in the spring from staff and parents, and Keith said they plan to progress keeping this close communication going.
However, if some parents don’t feel safe to bring their children back to school, Holy Family has a few options in place to accommodate them.
“We have four or five different modes of instruction that we have available … We certainly can move from the direct instructions with all of the safety procedures, knowing that it’s a complex challenge in itself, to using technology in a variety of different ways. And at the other extreme if parents feel that they want to homeschool there is that opportunity as well,” said Keith.
“We have lots in a toolbox. There will be another deeper resource available for staff and parents just on the instruction side alone. But we are really glad that we have spent a lot of time on innovation and trying to look at how to leverage technology,” said Keith. “But most of our parents from the last survey that we did certainly want to see kids in school and getting the instruction from the teachers in the most normalized way possible that we can provide.”
She added that COVID brought in some changes into the faith aspect of education, opening new avenues. For example, they had some key religious events live-streamed with archbishop participating and the response was great. And as they open up the school year they plan to continue with online options for some religious events, but they still will do their best to keep the community spirit.
Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division's system openning 2020-21 operational and learning plans can be found here.