The Delta School District has released its back-to-school plan, with a focus on health and safety, and maximizing in-class instruction.
The plan, released Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 26), calls for full daily classroom attendance to help minimize learning gaps and provide students with essential academic, social and emotional supports, in accordance with Stage 2 of the province’s Five Stage Framework for K-12 Education.
Key elements of the plan include daily health checks (to be performed by staff, students and their families prior to coming to school), learning groups of around 30 people (includes students and adults), physical distancing of at least two metres when outside of learning groups, increased hand hygiene and “respiratory etiquette,” and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
“Our plan enables Delta students to attend school every day which is so important as in-class instruction provides students with peer engagement, supports their social and emotional development and decreases feelings of isolation,” superintendent of schools Doug Sheppard said in a press release.
“Our plan also ensures students receive the same amount of face-to-face instruction for most of their courses. We have taken steps to reduce student cohorts below the maximum number allowed where possible, as this will result in less disruption for students if the pandemic requires schools to move between other stages of the education framework.”
The district’s full back-to-school plan can be found online at deltasd.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/08/District-37-COVID-19-SAFETY-PLAN-August-20-2020.pdf.
Under provincial rules released last month, learning groups can contain up to 60 people for elementary schools and 120 people in secondary schools. Delta’s plan calls for learning groups much smaller than the provincial maximum — typically classroom size — in order to speed up contact tracing and further prevent the spread of illness.
Secondary timetables will be quartered, with students taking two courses per nine- to 10-week period. Instructional blocks will be longer than usual at 120 minutes.
Most secondary students will have learning groups of 30 per quarter, and the district will try to cohort students to remain together through both courses as much as possible. Some classes may still include students form other learning groups, in which case physical distancing will be maintained or the class will be run as a “hybrid course” involving in-class instruction and remote learning.
Under Stage 2 of the provincial back-to-school framework, the only time students and staff must regularly practice physical distancing of two metres is when they are outside of their learning group, though minimized physical contact within groups is required. Classroom layouts will be organized to maximize physical distancing and consistent seating arrangements will be encouraged within learning groups.
Stage 2 does not include any school population density limits, however should health officials mandate a move into Stage 3 or 4, density limits of 50 and 25 per cent, respectively, will also apply to the learning groups. (For context, Stage 1 is the resumption of regular full-time instruction, which will not happen until an effective vaccine or treatment is widely available.)
The district will be supplying each student and staff member with two non-medical masks, which all secondary students will be required to wear in high-traffic areas such as buses and in common areas such as hallways, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.
However, the plan states that no student needs to wear a non-medical mask if they “do not tolerate it.”
In an email to the Reporter, Delta School District communications manager Cathryn Tucker elaborated that exceptions will be made for students who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons.
“Where students should be wearing a mask as per the PHO guidelines, but are unable to do so for various medical reasons, the specific circumstances associated with the student’s difficulty with wearing a mask will be reviewed and supported,” Tucker said.
Staff, meanwhile, will also be required to wear a non-medical mask, face covering or face shield (in which case the plan states a non-medical mask should also be worn) in high-traffic and common areas, or anytime outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained. Staff can also wear a mask, face covering or face shield within their classroom or learning group if they choose.
Non-medical masks are not recommended for elementary students due to the increased likelihood they will touch their face and eyes, as well as need help to properly put the masks on and take them off, requiring increased close personal contact from school staff.
Even when wearing a mask, physical distancing will still be required outside of learning groups, and crowding, gathering or congregating of people from different learning groups will not be allowed.
In addition to face-to-face in-class instruction, parents have the option of signing their children up for distributed learning (the Home Quest program for K-9, Delta Access online learning for grades 10-12) or home schooling (parents assume all responsibility for their child’s learning).
Remote instruction as was provided at the end of the 2019-2020 school year is not being offered come September.
Both Home Quest and home schooling are full year commitments, meaning if students whose parents choose either option will not be able to return to their home school until September 2021.
If a student who is currently attending a Delta school registers for Home Quest or home schooling for the upcoming school year, the district is committed to holding that student’s place at their home school for the following school year.
In order to create the learning groups, the district is asking parents to let them know which option they choose at some point in the week beginning Aug. 31.
“We understand some parents may not be ready to send their children back right away and so we will work with them to help their children transition back to full-time schooling,” Sheppard said in a letter to parents Wednesday.
Staff will return to work on Tuesday, Sept. 8 to receive instructions about how the updated guidelines will work in their school. This will also allow time for staff to adapt the plan to their school’s needs, adjust to new routines, finalize plans for learning groups and confirm lesson plans.
Students will be welcomed back to class for orientation starting Thursday, Sept. 10. During this time, they will be assigned to their class, find out who is in their learning group, practise their new routines and familiarize themselves with how to safely move from the class to outdoor and common areas of the school.
Parents can expect to receive specific information from their children’s schools in the coming days.