Hugh MacKinnon, teacher-on-call for the Surrey school district, with one of the students attending childcare for essential service workers at one of four school district sites in May of 2020. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Education

Surrey school district anticipates ‘full return’ for elementary students: superintendent

Larger high schools could prove to be a challenge for full-time attendance, Tinney says

Surrey School’s superintendent says there is “much more for us to consider and to unpack as we work with the new guidelines and protocols” as the district moves forward in planning for a return to school for students.

On Wednesday (July 29), the Ministry of Education announced that province’s plan for a return to school provincewide in September, but much of the plan will be up to individual school districts.

READ ALSO: B.C. to roll out ‘learning groups’ as part of COVID-19 back-to-school plan, July 29, 2020

Minister of Education Rob Fleming said the province is moving to Stage 2 of the B.C. Education Restart Plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year on Sept. 8.

Students will be organized into “learning groups” or “cohorts” made up of a “consistent group of staff and students.” Students will be assigned to groups of up to 60 for elementary school and 120 for high school.

This is to reduce the number of people each student or staff member will come into contact with, reduce the risk of transmission and help with contact tracing for health authorities.

In a July 30 message from Surrey Superintendent Jordan Tinney, he said cohorts will stay together for learning and other activities.

“In this concept, students will still be in classes, but these classes can learn and interact together. It’s very similar to expanding your contacts in the community, but it limits the close contacts to 60 or 120 in our schools,” he said.

When in-class learning returned in June, elementary students went to school on alternating days, either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday, with students in kindergarten to Grade 5 receiving two days of instruction and students in grades 6 and 7 receiving one day each.

For high school students, they followed a “tutorial model” where they could sign up through a set schedule of times and “receive face-to-face support from their teachers,” which was the equivalent of one day of school.

READ ALSO: What June 1 will look like at Surrey schools, May 29, 2020

READ ALSO: Surrey School District forecasts up to 30 per cent of students will return to class this week, June 2, 2020

Now, Tinney said through the cohorts, the B.C. government “feels that we can provide opportunities for more students while still keeping COVID under control to the greatest extent possible.”

Fleming said the classroom “is an essential part of a child’s social, academic and mental development.”

“That’s why we are working hard to ensure students can safely spend the next school year with their teachers and classmates,” he said.

Tinney said the concept of remaining in classes together for a year is “very familiar” to parents, students and staff at the elementary level, and the district is anticipating “a full return to school for 100 per cent of our students.”

At the high school level, he said the concept of cohorts is “well known, but typically our secondary schools are structured to have students move in different groups from block to block throughout the day.”

He added this would require changing timetables, which are “normally designed around student choice.”

“As we look toward September, we know that students still need access to the normal range of courses and there are teachers with unique skill sets that will need to be able to access students across cohorts,” Tinney explained.

“Practicing appropriate physical distancing, both students and staff may be permitted to work across different cohorts.”

But he added that some secondary schools are well over 1,000 students, with some as large as 2,000 and “it may not be possible in our very large secondary schools to have all students in attendance full time.”

With that, Tinney said the district is “examining” hybrid models that include both face-to-face and online learning.

Another change from June’s brief return is that attending school “will not be voluntary,” Tinney said.

He said parents, staff and students will have many questions including “What does it look like to physical distance with class size back to normal? What about Teachers Teaching on Call and other adults who need to move across cohorts? Will my child still get the courses that they need?”

Tinney said with Thursday’s message, the district “simply wanted to provide people with an update on what has been announced,” adding that he plans to have another update by the end of next week.

– With files from Ashley Wadwhani

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