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Bow Valley schools preparing re-entry plans for September

"We have to look at all the risks and benefits for our kids, for the teachers and for the administrators," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw during a town hall livestream Thursday (June 25). "Having kids stay at home and do virtual school for long periods of time brings with it other risks that we need to take into consideration."
Canmore Collegiate High School.
Canmore Collegiate High School. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – If  officials with Alberta Health Services determine students will be allowed to return to classes in the fall, pupils and their parents can expect the experience to be anything but normal.

Canadian Rockies Public School deputy superintendent of learning and innovation, Violet Parsons-Pack, said plans are being developed for three possible scenarios for the next school year, which will be decided at the beginning of August.

"Alberta Health has not decided at this time if we are going to have all students back in school," Parsons-Pack said. "That is the preference, but it also depends on what happens with COVID-19 over the summer." 

At the beginning of June, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced the three possible scenarios for Alberta's elementary, middle and high school students for the start of the 2020-21 school year.  

School boards were directed to plan for three possible scenarios: in-school classes resume with near normal operations and health measures; in-school classes partially resume with additional health measures; or at home learning continues.

LaGrange said the government will share its final decision on Aug. 1, however school administrators were told to prepare to be able to switch between those three scenarios seamlessly and with little notice as well. 

The re-entry directives for school divisions around each scenario were provided in June. CRPS has been using the documents provided by the province to develop an overall re-entry plan, as well as one for each school. A briefing report was provided to the board during its June 24 meeting, however, its contents were not made publicly available in time for the Outlook's deadlines. 

Christ the Redeemer Catholic School board, on the other hand, has published its overall draft re-entry plan on its website. The overall plan sets out some of the district-wide recommendations currently being considered like the possibility of dividing students into two groups on a two-day rotation to attend in-school classes according to last names.

In an email to parents, superintendent Scott Morrison wrote that principals are working with the school division to prepare scenarios for the fall that are specific to each school. 

"The plan is essentially complete and we would like to share it with you," Morrison said. "Please note that it is a working plan and as we receive direction from Alberta Health Services we will work to update the plan with new information." 

The Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy re-entry plan is expected to be available on its website by the end of August. 

Part of the planning work includes ensuring all schools are able to transition between the different scenarios if needed.  

"What [Alberta Education] has told us is we need to be able to move from one scenario to the next seamlessly and go back and forth without interrupting learning as much as possible," Parsons-Pack said. 

Canmore Collegiate High School principal Chris Rogers went through a few examples of the operational and educational scenarios that are being explored to allow re-entry in the fall. 

The Waldorf-inspired kindergarten to Grade Six Alpenglow School runs out of CCHS and Rogers said as a result of COVID-19 restrictions there will challenges to overcome for that program. For example, hooks to hang jackets and other outdoor clothing or gear are no longer allowed. 

That creates a challenge for where to store students personal items and changes of clothing while they are in class, said Rogers. 

Another example is physical education, which will definitely not be the same as it was before. Rogers said there is a very limited amount of educational programming around physical education that can happen indoors anymore. 

"Students cannot have lockers anymore and you cannot have change rooms [or showers]," he said, adding they also have to maintain a two-metre distance and cannot share equipment. "Phys-ed presents a lot of challenges and certainly the recommendation is to be outside as much as possible." 

Another consideration for the school year, said Rogers, is whether or not the campuses will remain open or closed. In other words, are students allowed to leave during lunch or their free time. Even the high school cafeteria will need new protocols to reopen. 

"Those are just a small sample of some of the challenges we are facing in doing this return to near normal," Rogers said.

One of the concepts being put forward by public health officials is the establishment of classroom-sized cohorts in the schools. Parsons-Pack said by establishing cohorts, it would limit the amount of interactions students and teachers are having with each other. 

Cohorts would still need to physically distance as much as possible and there would be a response plan in the event one student or teacher tests positive for the coronavirus, or is exposed. 

Parsons-Pack said this strategy could prevent shutting down the entire school should a positive case be confirmed. 

"It minimizes the need to take drastic measures such as sending the whole school home," she said. 

Another change under consideration is moving to a quarter system for structuring class schedules. Instead of two semesters where students take four courses, there would be four quarters where students take two courses during each. This would further limit interactions especially at the high school level. 

Parents were sent a letter by CRPS on June 26 introducing some of the changes that can be expected district-wide in the fall.  

That includes parents no longer being allowed to come inside the schools unless they make an appointment 24 hours in advance, with the exception of emergency situations. 

Other changes include schools remaining locked except during drop off times, playground structures will not be used during school hours, and all field trips and sports teams are suspended. 

Director of science, technology and facilities Steve Greene said he has been working to try and anticipate the need for supplies next year, and in particular, personal protective equipment, signage and hand sanitizer. 

The goal is to have a month of stock in place by the time teachers return to the schools mid-August. 

"What we are trying to do, and have been doing since our schools went into the online environment, is to crystal ball what it might look like moving forward," Greene said. "[We have been] trying to think of every scenario we could possibly need." 

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the return of in-school learning still has risk involved, but officials are trying to balance the risk of exposure with the long-term unintended consequences of students remaining at home full time and learning online. 

"We have to look at all the risks and benefits for our kids, for the teachers and for the administrators," Hinshaw said during a town hall livestream Thursday (June 25). "Having kids stay at home and do virtual school for long periods of time brings with it other risks that we need to take into consideration."

CRPS chair Carol Picard requested the board set an extra meeting date in August in case administration requires any budget changes or decisions by trustees to move forward.

"This is a very unusual year," Picard said. "With the Aug. 1 unveil of what our re-entry is going to look like, I think we might as a board and senior administration team, carve out some time if we need it." 

With in person school board meetings no longer occurring due to COVID-19 distancing restrictions, Picard said trustees that may be out of town in August will still be able to attend virtually. 

In-school classes were cancelled on March 15 by the provincial government, which declared a state of public health emergency on March 17. 

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