Elementary students are set to return to schools in B.C. starting on June 1 for two days of in-class instruction per week, if they choose to return. Ripple Rock Elementary School is seen in this file photo from April 29, 2020. Photo by Marissa Tiel – Campbell River Mirror

Vancouver Island districts prepare for partial – and volunteer – return to schools

Starting June 1, most kids will be back for part-time classes, and only if they want to be

School districts across Vancouver Island are gearing up for a limited back-to-school on June 1.

Spaced desks, staggered drop-off times and hand-cleaning before entering the building are some of the protocols that will be in place when the Campbell River School District moves to optional in-class instruction.

In a May 15 letter to parents and guardians, district superintendent Jeremy Morrow said they were preparing for the shift, which is a move to Stage 3 from Stage 4 of the Ministry of Education’s restart plan.

“The return to in-class instruction is completely voluntary for parents and we understand that it is a difficult decision for many to make,” he said.

RELATED: COVID-19: B.C. schools to begin part-time class instruction June 1

Districts are in the midst of preparing return-to-class plans, which will have to be approved by the ministry. The districts will follow health and safety protocols and direction from the ministry and public health.

Keven Elder, superintendent of schools for the Qualicum School District, said the voluntary return will differ for elementary and high school-aged children. The district doesn’t know the number of children returning to school as of now, but Elder said he expects it to be a minority.

“We started by going to parents of K to seven children, of all of our elementary students, and asking them for, with your school, your teacher, your grade… do you intend to have your child return starting June 1?” said Elder. “Or not. Or, is your answer maybe, and if it’s maybe, what are the things that you’re wondering about?”

As outlined in the ministry’s plan, not all students will be returning to class full-time. In fact, children who are of childminding age and have parents that are essential workers are the only ones who will have the option. Students that have been identified as vulnerable will also continue to have in-school supports five days a week.

Other kindergarten to Grade 5 students will attend school on a half-time basis. Morrow said his students in kindergarten through Grade 5 will only be attending school for two days a week and there won’t be more than half a class at a time. The number of students is being reduced to “make sure that schools are safe for students and staff.”

Elder said it could look like alternating weeks or a few days on and then off, but not morning/afternoon splits — that would make cleaning too difficult.

On the other hand, students in Grades 6 to 12 will have the option to return to school one day a week and will continue with their remote and online learning. But there could be access to more school-based supports like tutorials, or the ability to work on projects at school, but only if deemed necessary by parents and teachers. There won’t be more than 20 per cent of middle or high school-aged students in the building at any time.

RELATED: Vancouver Island students are studying again, but not in schools

In Campbell River, remote learning opportunities for students in kindergarten through Grade 5 will be paused the week of May 25 as all school staff return to their schools. Morrow said it’s to allow them time to settle back into their classrooms and schools and to become familiar with the new health and safety protocols.

The remote learning opportunities for these grades may take a different shape as teachers also balance in-class learning.

“We know that you might have some apprehension in sending your child(ren) back to school,” he said. “This is voluntary; no matter which option you choose your child will continue to receive support through this next phase.”

In Qualicum, all staff who are able are returning as of May 25 to prepare for the return. They will also continue to assist students who continue to learn from home, but will have less time to do so.

In terms of physical distancing, younger children are going to have minimal contact with each other and older students will be expected to physically distance where possible.

Elder emphasized that no one will be penalized in any way for not returning to school and that students will have the opportunity to find out what works for them, especially when it comes to high school students and students with unique needs.

“None of this has any effect on grades at the end of the year, we’re being very, very flexible on what constitutes end of year reporting,” he said.


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