Saskatchewan Rivers School Division updates return to school plan

The Sask Rivers Education Centre/ Daily Herald File Photo

The Saskatchewan Rivers School Division has updated their Return to School Plan and updated the board on the changes at their regular board meeting on Monday, August 31. Changes have been made to front facing learning and expanding the teachers available for the online learning option.

During a report to the board, director of education Robert Bratvold said front-facing instruction was adjusted on August 28 with exceptions from Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

Front-facing instruction means all students face forward in their desks or work stations, something not always possible in all settings.

“One of the big things for us is the exemption around front facing instruction and that is big in terms of our early years, in terms of our phys-ed,” Bratvold said.

Exceptions including physical education, science labs, early years play based environments, group instruction such as guided reading and student supports done in a group format.

Written exemptions in other circumstances will be made by the teacher through the teacher, a superintendent who will forward the request to Public Health.

“It is an improved learning situation because there is so much research that learning through play in the early years, and it is not as though it is just a random playing so that is important too. But it is a structured learning environment through socializing and that is important for early years. But also that exemption to it for instruction is also important in things like practical fine arts shops, science labs, phys ed, gymnasiums. That was very well received and I’m thankful that the Chief Medical Officer of Health has seen the value of that but also provided some direction around that so that was a good piece for us,” Bratvold explained.

According to Bratvold they knew return to school plans would evolve according to direction from community context, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education directions ahead of school opening next Tuesday.

“We need to constantly be ready to adapt our plan,” Bratvold said.

Changes to the plan are now highlighted in green and the updated version is now posted at the Saskatchewan Rivers website. Trustees reviewed, discussed and approved the enhanced Return to School Plan.

Board chair Barry Hollick commended administration for their work on putting together the plan and having new superintendent Jennifer Hingley as part of that process.

“It is interesting having outside eyes because she started with us in August so that has added an element to our meetings as well. But I want to commend them for the work that they have done. Our board as well because we get community feedback, all of our trustees meet various members of the public so having that opportunity to share that with admin as well there is board input into the plan,” Hollick said.

More staff hired for remote learning

All students are now expected to participate in classroom learning, but remote learning is available to students with medical needs that prevent them from attending through the newly established SRPSD Distance Learning Centre . Online learning is available to students who choose to learn from home and whose family are prepared to commit to the new learning platform.

Nearly 500 students are interested in remote learning and the division has hired staff and done some planning around structure and supports for the model. They anticipate it as not just a temporary challenge, but a potential long-term idea. Several families have asked to begin the year remotely to see how things develop and later return to schools if possible.

The board approved the expenditure of additional funds for an additional eight teachers beyond the budgeted staff as an allocation to support the development in the implementation of the division’s online learning program.

“ We had lots of discussions around how that looked and it is a need that is current and pressing. We have seen it coming and this just sort of accelerated that need for us. We already hired four staff and we will add more staff. A bit of a positive coincidence was we had fewer retirees last year and so we have got a fairly strong pool of capable teachers who might have been on temporary contracts last year,” Bratvold said.

Bratvold explained that there are also some staff members with medical needs who cannot return to the classroom and they have matching skill sets and can be assigned to remote instruction.

They don’t have to be in a classroom with 20 or 25 kids, they will have 20 or 30 kids in a remote classroom and not have to be present. We still hire someone to replace them to backfill them but there is some capacity to reassign staff,” he explained.

In a report from Superintendent Neil Finch, it was noted that there will be more stress on the substitute teachers list due to COVID-19 but administration is trying to be ready. As far as advertising for substitute teachers, Finch anticipates seeing how the start of the year is going before possibly changing and looking into creative ways to recruit.

Multi-purpose rooms have been eliminated in the division but gymnasiums, libraries and computer labs will still have some multi-use function but will cycle fewer students through.

Mask guidelines updated for split classes

Staff must now wear a mask or face shield during interactions in the isolation room and students will be provided with a mask if not wearing one at the time and be required to wear a mask in the isolation room.

Mask guidelines in classrooms have also changed. In multi-graded classrooms that include students Grade 4 and above (such as a Grade 3/4 class) the entire class will be required to wear a mask. Masks are required for Physical Education that takes place indoors in situations that cannot have proper physical distancing. Outdoor activities in physical education will not require a mask. In both types of activities there will be limited physical contact.

Emergency lunch programs are now to be managed by staff and food is to be independently packaged and delivered to designated eating areas such as classrooms.

Vending machines may remain in operation following guidelines on limited students contacts at the site of the machine.

All students are required to participate in learning as set out by the teacher.

Partnerships already established in the division’s schools are to follow the Return to School plan and local schools are to coordinate their services with directions from the Principal. Access to facilities through partnerships is subject to change at any time and may be removed with guidance from the Health Authority.

As well, Pre-Kindergarten programs will continue to have staggered entry until the end of September. Principals can reduce the initial intake of students. Parents must ensure that the most vulnerable students are part of the first intake and the target is 20 students per class.

Hollick explained that each Thursday there is a meeting of all directors of education and board chairs. In one meeting the province told the directors and chairs that students would return with no masks. The Saskatchewan Rivers Division decided instead to err on the side of safety and institute masks for Grade 4 to 12.

“We feel fairly confident that we have really looked at all of the possibilities that are there for safety precautions and we certainly are taking them and implementing them,” he said.

Hollick also wanted to note how the stakeholders in the division have handled the entire situation.

“I want to commend the parents and the kids for going through what was probably the most unexpected few months of anyone’s life in education. We are really pleased with the feedback we have had from parents so far. We know people are apprehensive about getting back to school but we have been as careful as possible in making our plan. And with input from Health we are confident that we are going to have a safe start, so that is what we are anticipating anyway,” he said.