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New plan for class rolls out across Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

Distancing strategies top of list in details for parents, students
Under the SD42 Restart plan school buses are to be disinfected after each trip and, weather permitting, they will operate with windows down and roof vents open to ensure the flow of fresh air. (The News files)

Physical distancing signs, floor decals directing traffic flow, and a designated entrance and exit are some of the changes awaiting students when they return to school on Sept. 10.

However, the president of the Maple Ridge Teachers Association would like the provincial government to make additional changes to the restart plan for schools, unveiled by the school district Wednesday, Aug. 26, detailing what parents and students can expect.

The plan spelled out the size of learning groups or cohorts, the wearing of masks, how courses are to be offered, what the trades programs are going to look like, what students with diverse abilities and disabilities can expect, along with students in continuing and alternative education programs. A cleaning and sanitizing schedule was also unveiled within the plan, physical distancing strategies, what will be expected on school buses, and what students will have to do if they have to self isolate.

As far as rolling out a plan, the school district, said Trevor Takasaki, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers Association, has followed the provincial guidelines. He is directing his criticism at the provincial level.

READ MORE: From masks to cohorting, a guide to back-to-school rules across the country

Takasaki would have liked to see more funding by the government for staffing at schools, because he says, with the cohort model, it will be difficult to offer all the courses students require to graduate.

Cohorts for elementary school students are not to exceed 60 students and staff. Cohorts for those in Grades 8 to 10 will be no larger than 80 and for those in secondary school, they will not to exceed 120.

However, explained Takasaki, there are limits on how many students are needed in a class for that class to be offered.

“One administrator was showing me the around-the-clock planning it took him to organize a schedule where students all got what they wanted. The problem is it would take one extra staff member to make that entire plan for the school to work,” said Takasaki.

If he doesn’t get that extra staff member, then, Takasaki said, he has to go back to the drawing board.

RELATED: B.C. dads file suit against province over back-to-school COVID plan

“Those are choices that would be alleviated if we could just get a little more flexibility in staffing and that just requires extra money for staff,” he said, money he is hoping can come from the federal government’s newly announced $2 billion Safe Return to Class fund, of which schools in B.C. are receiving $242.36 million.

Takasaki would have also liked to see masks being mandated and less “density” in the classroom to allow for physical distancing.

“The cohort will allow tracing and quarantining to be easier. If social distancing is something we can see works, there is no way there will be social distancing in a classroom with 100 per cent capacity,” said Takasaki.

As for masks, Takasaki says, he prefers Ontario’s plan, which goes a lot further than B.C.’s. Once students are in their cohort, said Takasaki, they don’t have to wear a mask.

“If a teacher has health concerns, I would like for the government to say, in certain circumstances, or much more expanded circumstances, students can be expected to wear masks,” he said.

Takasaki also wants the government to provide 100 per cent funding for distance learning.

The SD42 Restart Plan will see students from kindergarten to Grade 7 attend school daily. Although they will be organized into learning groups of not more than 60 students and staff – most learning groups, the plan said, will be made up of 30 or less.

School days will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. with controlled start-up and dismissal procedures.

Recess and lunch breaks will remain the same.

Secondary students from Grade 8 to 12 will switch to a quarter system, meaning students will be completing only two courses at a time, switching courses at each quarter of the school year. Student elective choices and access to supports will be maximized as much as possible.

“If the provincial health officer must scale back attendance due to worsening conditions, it is much easier for students to manage the requirements of just two courses at a time in the context of more limited in-person school attendance,” read the restart plan.

Learning groups will be no larger than 120 students and staff– and school start and dismissal times, along with lunch breaks will be staggered. Each group will have assigned doors to enter and exit the school, along with assigned washrooms and classroom spaces.

Physical distancing will be maintained through separate dedicated entrances, exits, and eating areas.

Students in Grades 8 and 9 will attend school full-time, and where possible, Grade 10 students will attend school full-time, too.

Learning groups will be no larger than 80 people. Some multi-grade electives and support blocks will be offered outside of set learning groups, read the plan, and classes with students from more than one learning group will run as a semester or linear program.

Physical distancing rules will be in place.

For some of those in Grades 10 to 12, afternoon classes will be scheduled in a blended format – where in-classroom instruction will be given twice a week and one day will be dedicated to online learning – to accommodate elective choices.

However, daily in-class instruction will be available to students who cannot manage the blended model.

Guidelines were also given for continuing education, alternate education, and the trades programs.

Additional custodians have been hired for general cleaning that will done in schools once every 24 hours, and to clean frequently touched surfaces, which will be disinfected twice every 24 hours.

Hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout schools, and faucets will be touch-less where possible.

Two reusable cloth masks will be provided for all students and staff, although they are not required to wear them within learning groups or cohorts, but are mandatory for secondary staff and students in high-traffic areas outside of their learning groups.

Face shields for staff will also be available, and air filters in ventilation systems will be replaced on a regular basis.

Plans are also in place for students at all levels to switch from Stage 2 to Stage 3 of the restart plan.

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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