Central Okanagan schools are ready for their students to return to in-class instruction next week, following over two months of online classes for most students amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
With increased safety protocols approved by the provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, School District 23 is confident it will have a successful transition for the unusual back-to-school season.
“From operations staff to educators to administrators, our staff’s response to the third stage of opening schools is commendable,” said Kevin Kaardal, superintendent and CEO of SD23. “The critical role of public schools in B.C.’s restart plan brings its share of challenges and our people meet those challenges with the resilience and work ethic we teach to students.”
The implementation of strict safety measures at schools to reduce to the risk of COVID-19 transmission, as well as ministry-approved return-to-class plans and safety plans are required by the province.
SD23 already had several measures in place as some students, solely those of frontline workers, and teachers returned to school in April.
The district anticipates nearly 11,000 students to return to in-class learning on a part-time basis over the month of June.
“While we share community concerns about returning to any kind of in-class instruction, we are confident in both the Province of B.C.’s guidelines and our district’s response,” said Moyra Baxter, chairperson for the board of education. “As we educate and prepare everyone for the next phase in September, we will continue to serve our communities with a focus on the safety and wellbeing of students and staff.”
The district said its schools will continue to have specific entry points, daily entry procedures, signage, and instructions to help maximize hygiene and physical distancing. Administrators will educate staff, students, and families on routine daily screening to self-assess for symptoms of any respiratory illness.
Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the expansion of in-class education May 15, emphasizing that it is voluntary. Schools are already holding live teaching for children of essential workers, and expanding that will allow the province to “test and gauge as we go,” Horgan said.
The plan is to return to part-time in-class instruction for kindergarten to grade five (such as alternating days), and one day a week for grades six to 12. Fleming said existing class groups will be kept together as far as possible, with a combination of online and in-person instruction.
Fleming outlined the safety measures, including control of hallway traffic and congregating of students, and sanitizing doorknobs, washrooms and desks twice a day. The target for the spring phase is up to 20 per cent of the students back in school.
“It’s going to be very strict, and it needs to be,” Fleming said.
-With files from Tom Fletcher
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