Sooke School District board chair Ravi Parmar is impressed with the work provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Educational Minister Rob Fleming have done to prepare students to return to school in September.
But he points out classrooms will look a lot different to deal with the “new normal.”
Sept. 8 will be the first day of classes.
Students will be organized into “learning groups,” made up of a consistent group of staff and students to reduce the risk of transmission, Fleming said.
Students will be assigned to groups of up to 60 for younger grades and 120 for high school, which means some middle and high school students will see some changes to their daily schedules.
Staff and students will also be required to assess themselves daily for symptoms of the coronavirus. If any student or staff member has even mild symptoms, they will be told to stay home.
“We’ve seen and heard about the detriment that having schools closed have done to our students,” said Parmar. “It’s fair to say that it will be easier to accommodate the restart plan [at Edward Milne Community Secondary], but a lot of work still needs to happen.”
Sooke School District is relatively diverse. Belmont Secondary, its biggest school, has hit between 1,200 to 1,300 student enrolment in previous years, while its elementary school in Port Renfrew taught 11 students last year. Port Renfrew is expecting to double that number this fall.
The province will also be giving $45.6 million in funding to schools to ensure adequate and regular cleaning of high-contact services, as well as increasing the number of available hand-hygiene stations and optional masks.
Middle and secondary schools in the district now operate on a semester system, but Parmar said those plans could be kicked to the curb if there are better options to help adhere to provincial health regulations.
Each district will have until Aug. 26 to finalize its restart plan for the province for review.
“There’s a lot of anxiety out there for parents, staff, and students,” Parmar said. “September will bring new stress that we’ve never faced before, but we are hard at work to ensure the safety of every student.”
— with files from Ashley Wadhwani