School District 54’s back to school plan has been approved by the Ministry of Education and the school has now updated their website with the plan along with health and safety guidelines.
On Aug. 26, Education Minister Rob Flemming announced the ministry’s approval for the back to school plans submitted by all the 60 school districts in the province.
“We’ve had a chance to review each of these plans, and I’m impressed by the thoughtful, considerate and innovative local solutions that we see within those plans,” said Flemming during the announcement adding that each school district’s plan would differ based on the size, space, parental feedback and staff agreements.
The schools under School District 54 (SD 54) will group students into learning cohorts or groups as per the BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines. All the students at Houston secondary and students belonging to Grades 8-9 at Smithers secondary would follow this cohort model. While all the students will be expected to attend the school every day to emphasize on in-class instruction, the exception will be for Smithers secondary Grades 10-12, who will follow a Hybrid model with half the class attending in-person instruction every day.
Students will also be provided bus service with cleaning and hygiene protocols in place and assigned seating with seating as per cohorts or family groups. Students belonging to Grades 5 through 12 would be expected to wear non-medical masks on the bus whenever possible. Additionally, students from Wit’set would also be eligible for bus transportation made possible through a dialogue between the district and the Kyah Wiget Education Society to support students from that community.
Students with special needs would be given priority for in-person instruction and those who wouldn’t be able to attend school due to disability or COVID, would be given support through their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
The school district also outlined their health and safety guidelines in the back to school plan which include having additional hand washing stations, wearing non-medical masks for staff and students from grades 5-12 whenever possible within their cohorts or at places where social distancing is not possible and student-screening for symptoms upon arrival. Any students or staff members who show symptoms would be quarantined until they are able to leave.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) that represents bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, the IT tech department, indigenous workers, basically everybody that’s not a teacher, is supportive of the back to school plan.
The CUPE President for the Bulkley Valley region, Rolanda Lavallee said, “CUPE fully supports the back to school plan. We realized we needed to increase the custodian staff and SD 54 has 100 per cent agreed.”
Two permanent custodian positions would soon be posted for Smithers and Houston to ensure there is adequate cleaning happening during the day for high-touch areas, and then more cleaning in the afternoon to ensure the school is clean, secure and ready for the next day.
“This is a very scary time for everyone involved — staff, students and parents, but we have collaboratively been working hard on our health and safety plan, our pandemic plan and I think the new policies and practices that are being put in to place, are going to ensure the health and safety of students and staff,” said Lavallee who has been a custodian with the school district for 10 years.
As previously announced, teachers will be returning to schools on Sept. 8 for two days of orientation on health and safety and planning, before students return on Sept. 10 for a similar two-day orientation.
Superintendent Mike McDiarmid, in a letter to parents on Aug. 26, said,” As a parent, I do understand there is a wide variety of opinions about how schools should operate in this COVID environment. I believe that following the advice of our health care professionals is the right course of action.”