Mission School District Superintendent Angus Wilson sits in a classroom at Mission Central Elementary school on Tuesday. Classrooms throughout the District are going to look a little different this year as staff prepare to teach during the COVID-19 outbreak. / Kevin Mills Photo

What Missionites need to know as kids return to classes this fall

The Mission School District released their official plan on Aug. 26

Mission students will be headed back to classes on Sept. 10 and 11 – here’s what you need to know.

The Mission School District’s official plan was released on Aug. 26, after Superintendent Angus Wilson met with all the school principals, along with the local teachers’ union to address specific concerns.

While the province has mandated the “learning groups” strategy for a safe return, how these groups are organized is the responsibility of each local district.

Mission’s groups will take multiple different forms across all levels of school, according to the official plan. These range from a single class of students and their teacher, multiple classes which join for certain learning activities or a group of high school students with the same courses.

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.”

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).

The groups in elementary schools are typically two classes including the teacher and educational assistants, with staff outside the groups having to adhere to health protocols.

“In a typical larger elementary school, it might be two grade 5 classes; in a small one it might be all primary students,” the plan states.

In middle schools, a “quarter system” has been implemented. There will be a total of four semesters for the year, with students completing and taking on a new course load every couple of months, and teachers operating within their assigned cohort for the year.

This change from the “junior high linear” model creates significant challenges due to the need to increase the amount of prep time for teachers and provide additional of learning supports, the plan states.

“From an educational point of view 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].”

Mission Secondary is a “special challenge,” due having over 1,300 students from Grades 10 to 12, the plan says. Students will be in attendance only one or two days a week.

The secondary school will run 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.

“Those at home will watch live streams of the lessons as part of a hybrid model. At any given time, about 35% of students will be in school. Class sizes will be small to allow for physical distancing,” the plan states.

Staggering the amount of students in class in this way, will allow the district to increase the amount of attendance in schools if the situation with COVID-19 improves, according to the plan.

It says students with specific designations or enrolled in special programs will attend schools full time, and spaces will also be held for potential international students.

Masks will be made mandatory in shared spaces of both middle schools and the high school.

Students with disabilities will be assisted by principals and case managers on an individual basis. An Individual Educational Plans will be created for the students in the first two months.

Case managers are responsible for making sure additional supports are available, and will touch base with teachers for remote learning if students are immunocompromised or can’t attend in person.

Support staff will be included in the cohorts if a student requires one-to-one support. Educational assistants will work virtually with the students when needed, as well as assist with the preparation of learning materials.

The plan also has several strategies for transportation to-and-from school on district buses.

It’s recommended that buses are loaded from back to front, and offloaded from front to back, according to the plan. It says students should not share seats if space if available, and only share with members of their own household or cohort when space is not.

Bus drivers and students are being advised to regularly clean their hands with alcohol based hand sanitizers, and are expected to wear a mask or face covering when unable to physically distance on the bus.

The plan states that schools should keep up-to-date passenger lists for public health authorities in case contact tracing needs to occur.

On Aug. 11, B.C.’s Education Minister Rob Fleming announced the start would be delayed by an additional two days to Sept. 10.

“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.

During these two days, increased safety measures will be implemented at all schools.

Directional arrows and physical distancing posters will be put in hallway, classrooms will be set up with maximum limits, break and lunch times will be staggered and building service worker will be given extra training on enhanced-cleaning protocols, according to the plan.

The plan has conventions on what to do if COVID-19 symptoms develop at school.

If a student develops symptoms at school: staff will immediately separate them from others and move them to a supervised area; parents will be contacted and expected to pick up the student as soon as possible; the student will be provided with a mask and tissues to limit their ability to spread any contagion; and, any area the student was recently in will be cleaned and disinfected.

The same immediacy of action also applies to staff.

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.”

For the full plan, visit:

www.mpsd.ca

RELATED: Future COVID-19 unknowns cause conservative budget for Mission School District

RELATED: The Mission School District’s plan for returning to classrooms this fall

RELATED: Teachers’ union slams B.C.’s return-to-school plan; says ad with Dr. Henry is ‘unrealistic’

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