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Some mandatory mask-wearing to be part of Qualicum back-to-school

Most students expected to be back in class as School District 69’s plan approved by the ministry

The Ministry of Education has approved a Qualicum school district back-to-school plan that includes some mandatory mask-wearing.

The School District 69 board of education discussed the plan at its regular board meeting held on Zoom on Aug. 25. Trustees passed an additional motion that reads: “THAT students in Grades 5 through 12 and all adults be required to wear masks when they are outside their learning groups and likely to be within 2 metres of others.”

The board made it clear that the plan, which can be viewed online at the district website, is a living document which will most likely change once school starts up and can be seen in action. The plan goes over many different aspects of what will happen in schools, including cleaning and disinfecting protocol, physical distancing strategies and student transportation.

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According to the plan, elementary school students are set to be in “intact grade-level classes ranging in size from 20 to 29 students. Each class will be paired with another class for connection during free time (e.g. lunch activity), creating a learning group of no more than 60 people.”

Grades 11 and 12 students will operate on a quarter system, with learning groups for each student “at no more than 120 with immediate and secondary contacts.” Grade 8 to 10 students “will be intact home-based classes working in a semester or linear model.” CEAP (Collaborative Education Alternative Program) will have a significantly higher number of students and the district said it’s working to ensure it is prepared for the influx.

“We submit the restart plan simply as a document that touches all the bases that are necessary based on the ministry requirement, but really only scratches the surface in terms of the quality of work that we intend to actualize as we move into that second week in September with all staff and students returning,” said SD69 superintendent of schools Keven Elder.

The district will not have space for courtesy bus riders — students who live outside their catchment area and walking limits — due to social distancing requirements. Students will be required to wear a mask while on the bus and will have a seating designation for the year, with two students per seat. That means a 72-passenger bus will hold 48 students while COVID-19 protocols are in place.

A district survey estimated that there are 292 courtesy riders in the district. The same survey collected specific information about the riders and got feedback from parents.

“It’s the thing that we’ve had the most concern expressed about…we just have to say no at this point because we don’t have room for those courtesy riders, we really do regret that, we know that puts people in very difficult positions and we’re not in the position to be able to add busses or add routes,” said Elder.

Ultimately, the Elder said the district also needs to focus on learning and how it will work in conjunction with all the safety measures.

“We have to keep reminding ourselves that while it seems to be all about safety, it’s all about ensuring that quality learning continues. We’re continuing to focus on the priorities that we all share,” he said.

Although some parents are still undecided, it looks like most district students will be returning to school. A survey shared during the meeting said that 2,544 parents were planning on putting their students in full-time class, 206 were planning on using CEAP, 51 were planning on doing homeschooling, 398 were planning on using home support and 91 were marked undecided/none of the above.

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