While province has mandated the “learning groups” strategy for a safe return to classes on September 10, how these groups will be organized is the responsibility of each individual district.
The strict limitations on group size – 60 per group for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools (including adults) – cannot be exceeded, Superintendent Angus Wilson said, and many of Mission’s learning groups will fall below that limit.
He said the division of students into cohorts will look different for each school depending on the structure of the building.
“What we can’t do is we can’t go over those numbers – but we can certainly go under them,” Wilson said. “The size of the school makes a difference … We have to have flexibility.
“For example, how Silverdale can deal with this, is different from how Albert McMahon or Windebank can deal with it.”
The Mission School District will have an official plan in place by Aug. 26, and Wilson said he has met with the school principals and the local teachers’ union to address specific concerns.
When the provincial plan on how schools would operate was initially announced on July 29, it was “a bit of a surprise,” Wilson said, and caused the district to have to reformulate their plans because of complications they were not expecting.
He said the strategy ties down who can interact with who at any given time, making it difficult for students with the same coursework to interact with each other, challenges any kind of event planning and creates rules that need to be enforced among students (some of whom may not understand).
Another change from other districts, pending approval by the province, will be secondary schools running on an altered semester system rather than a “quarter system.” Students will take four courses at a time, with one cohort in class one day, while another watches online. The two groups will switch the following day.
“From an educational point of new there is lots of problems and concerns with quarter systems … this makes it one of the better options for assigning kids,” Wilson said. “It’s just technically tricky to try and keep them constrained [otherwise].”
The province has promised $45.6 million in funding, meant to help B.C. districts with the cost of making sure their schools are frequently cleaned and sanitized. Wilson said they expect to get anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 of that fund.
This will offset some of the $467,000 added to Mission’s operations and maintenance budget for the year.
On Aug. 11, B.C.’s Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the start would be delayed by an additional two days to Sept. 10.
Prior to the delay, the BC Teachers Federation and parent groups had called for the province to bring a more detailed plan on returning to school, citing concerns on how physical distancing and other safety precautions will work.
“It gives a better opportunity for teachers and support staff to familiarize themselves with anything that may have changed in their school setting and be aware of what the learning groups will be in their particular school and classroom,” Wilson said.
Leger released a survey on Tuesday, Aug. 18, which found that around 75 per cent of B.C. parents, and 63 per cent of students are worried about the restart plan. Only 49 per cent of parents said their will be attending schools, with 36 per cent undecided – the latter number being the highest of any province.
The Record asked Mission parents about their thoughts on having kids return to school in the fall.
Carlene LaHay has three children in the Mission school district. She said that “very nervous” about sending kids to school after trying limit their interactions with others on the recommendations of B.C.’s top doctor.
“Now, I’m expected to send my children to school and increase our interactions exponentially,” she said. “I would like to see an online option, or a part time option.”
LaHay said she’s “not looking forward to making” the difficult decision about whether to home school or not.
Wilson said that he believes some parents will attempt homeschooling, and it’s their right to do so, but it’s their job to make parents confident that schools will be safe and healthy places.
“Parents need to always do what they feel is in the best interest of their children,” he said. “But we have to proceed with the system we have in place, and if we have fewer students or more students [than we expected] we will have to adjust as best we can as that unfurls.
“The message from the ministry is school is returning to being an in class experience.”
[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated the high schools would be running on a “quarter system,” where the students would take two classes at a time. In fact, classes will run on the semester system, pending approval by the province.]