Local school divisions unveil return-to-classroom plans

Prince Albert parents got a bit of a look at what school might look like when students return this fall as both the Catholic and public school divisions released the latest versions of their return to school plans.

The documents were very different. The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division expects to have its detailed plan ready by mid-August. The document they released this week was a 12-page summary.

As for the Prince Albert Catholic School Division, though, a full 118-page plan was released detailing everything from recommended classroom setup to disinfecting and cleaning guidelines to what equipment will be provided to teachers in the fall.

Sask. Rivers

The Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division document varied little from provincial guidelines as that division is still finalizing its plan.

“This plan is intended to be a concise and clear guide … but it is not intended to provide exhaustive detail,” the division wrote.

In addition, each school will develop its own local plan for many procedures.

What detail was included, though, outlined the plan to include cohorts of students “as much as possible.”

That means students will be kept with the same classmates for as much of the year as possible to prevent intermingling.

Schools will also be providing bulk sanitizer, and recess and lunch schedules will be examined to limit physical contact.

As for the classroom experience, especially in younger grades, teachers will be encouraged to create smaller playgroups that move from one area to another in the classroom. Handwashing will be done before each play area is used.

Schools will be providing bulk hand sanitizer, but students and staff will be encouraged to bring their own.

The number of toys will be reduced — especially toys that are hard to clean — and each student will be allocated their own bin or baggie of school supplies. The number of items brought to and from school and the home will be minimized, and each cohort’s entrance and exit will be looked at.

Breaks and classes might be staggered to limit the cohorts coming into contact with each other.

Prince Albert Catholic

The 118-page Catholic division plan outlines recommendations for several areas of the school, including gyms and athletics, arts and music, food service, transportation, common areas such as libraries and the classroom.

The plan also outlines approaches the division hopes to take with regards to protecting kids’ mental health, teaching procedures in an age-appropriate way and helping kids catch up after the formal school year ended in March.

The document thanks the public health officials who helped while drafting it, including local medical health officer Dr. Khami Chokani and other public health and Saskatchewan Health Authority staff.

The plan, the division said, is built on supporting learning strategies, promoting health and wellness and ensuring engagement with students, parents and staff.

“While a return to in-class learning is the goal for his upcoming fall, our school division will be working … to ensure contingency plans are in place in the event of elevated risk,” the document said.

It also encouraged students, parents and staff to share questions and concerns through the division’s online survey. That feedback will be used as the plan is refined further.

While the focus will be on in-person learning and providing classroom supports, some supports may be required to help students who aren’t returning at this time.

Teachers “will not be expected to assume double-teaching responsibilities” for students who choose not to return, the document said.

It also outlined a five-phase plan and a “purposeful” approach to the transition for aback to school for staff and students.

That includes professional development for staff in August to support the transition and a learning strategy for most grades that focuses on literacy and numeracy skills and cross-curricular learning.

“Student-teacher contact time must be prioritized regardless of delivery format,” the document said.

“Differentiation of instruction will be important due to the supplemental learning that occurred. The focus will be on the teaching of outcomes, rather than amount of time per subject.”

The division said it received a special price on laptops and iPads. It will make those available for families, if they want, to purchase or rent.

Further, the division’s new EDSBY portal will be used for lesson plans, progress reporting and communication.

All students will be automatically given an account from pre-K to Grade 12.

The document laid out learning expectations by age group, starting with prekindergarten students. Those students will see programming using the play and exploration methodology, with reduced group activities. Outdoor activity, when possible, and other activities that have minimal personal contact will be done as much as possible.

Students in Kindergarten through Grade 9 will see their education focused on language, literacy, math and numeracy skills with a cross-curricular approach “highly encouraged,” and reduced reliance on group activities.

Teachers will also be expected to monitor last year’s outcomes and skills before moving to this year’s outcomes, as once in-person learning ended in March of 2020, the rest of the year’s supplemental learning was optional and outcomes were inconsistent.

Different procedures will be in place for Grades 10-12 and French immersion.

High school students will have course access as per curriculum for all courses, while French Immersion will likely have to rely on more resources to supplement in-person French-language instruction. Those resources could include visual activities, online and audiobooks, songs and websites.

Before any of that learning can happen, though, division staff will be focused on the transition as students return to school. Staff will receive training in Red Cross psychological first aid and a phased return approach developed by Kevin Cameron, the director of the North American Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response.

The funding to train all administrators, teachers and support staff in psychological fist aid comes from the 2019-20 Ministry of Education Mental Health Grant. The division will also lean on previous training teachers received on helping children rebound from traumatic experiences.

As for physical health, staff will be allowed to wear masks or face shields at any time they deem necessary. They will be provided with disposable masks for situations where someone may be sick or they may be exposed to body fluids, two non-medical reusable masks for other situations and a face shield.

Gloves will be used for assisting personal care needs such as toileting or for diapering.

Physical distancing will be encouraged, with teachers using “social stories, visuals, videos, songs and rhymes … to help students understand the need and procedures for preventative measures,” the document said.

“Care will be taken to communicate information in a caring and supportive manner so students recognize the importance of the measure without inducing unnecessary fear or anxiety.”

Age-appropriate lessons will also be used to teach hand hygiene, coughing etiquette, recess play, using shared spaces, standing in line, riding the bus, eating at school and other changes to limit the spread of illness.

Masks, the document said, “are highly recommended.”

In addition to their masks and gloves, teachers will be provided with hand sanitizer and wipes. They, along with students, will help keep workspaces clean.

“Students will be involved with cleaning and sanitizing after their use of shared equipment,” the document said in a section about shared technology devices. “Taking care of self and others will be an educational focus throughout the year.”

Students will be assigned their own desks in elementary settings, and become involved in managing, cleaning and caring for their own workspace. No changing of desks will be allowed.

The desks themselves will be set up so they’re not facing each other and, as much as possible, will be around the perimeter of the room. Portable sneeze guards can be used from time to time, and all classes will have seating plans. Students will have their own, labelled school supplies and no toys will be allowed from home.

Students will be cohorted by class, and by grade. Their interaction with different teachers and educational assistants will be minimized, and lunch and snack breaks will be staggered.

Recess will be handled similarly. Each cohort will have its own assigned play area, that they will rotate throughout the week.

For example, one day one cohort will get the playground and another the soccer field.

The use of specialized rooms, such as labs or art rooms, will be minimized.

Non-homeroom teachers will go to students and not the other way around. Each cohort will have its own assigned entrances and separate spaces.

While extracurricular activities will be rolled out under yet-to-be-released public health guidelines, some activities, such as gym class, performing arts and music have their own guidelines in the Catholic division’s plan. While performances are not allowed at this time, instruction is.

Elementary school band will begin after the first two or three weeks of school.

Recording or live-streaming individual performers in separate locations will be allowed instead of traditional performances, and some mingling in music classrooms will be permitted.

Athletics, music, dance and theatre instruction is allowed so long as social distancing can be maintained.

The document encourages more music appreciation and theory is taught, and that the schools consider teaching instruments that are lower risk, such as percussion and strings, as opposed to wind instruments.

Field trips, aside from walking field trips, will not be going ahead.

For the full document, including a guide for parents and students, visit http://pacsd.ca/ and click on the COVID-19 updates tab.