Students in Vancouver are expected to return to the classroom in September, according to a proposed back-to-school plan released by the Vancouver School Board (VSB).
The plan, which was presented Wednesday during a special meeting of the board of education, will be submitted Friday to the Ministry of Education for final approval. The province is expected to approve all district plans by Aug. 26.
Under the proposed plan, all students will return to daily in-class instruction within cohort learning groups. District staff have now provided details to parents on how instruction will be delivered to elementary and secondary students, as well as what is expected of staff and students regarding health and safety measures.
According to the VSB, the district's September strategy aligns with Stage 2 of the government's five stage back to school plan, with Stage 1 being the resumption of pre-pandemic routines.
Elementary school students
Vancouver elementary schools will run full time with students having in-person instruction in learning groups and following the B.C. curriculum as they would normally.
The maximum size of elementary school learning groups is 60.
The students' individual class will be their main learning group, but kids will be allowed to socialize with peers in other learning groups outdoors if physical distancing is possible.
The VSB said all classes will use Microsoft Teams, even with in-person learning, so students and staff can transition smoothly back to at-home learning if need be.
To minimize contacts, some elementary schools will have staggered pick-up and drop-off times. Recess and lunch breaks may also be staggered.
Families with Vancouver elementary school students can expect to hear from their child's school with further details the week of Aug. 24.
Secondary school students
Under the Vancouver School District's proposed plan, older students will also attend class daily.
Learning groups at the secondary level will be up to 120 people and students will take two courses every 10 weeks in a mixed in-class, online format.
"We think there are all kinds of opportunities for students to learn really deeply some of the content because it will be quite focused," said district superintendent Suzanne Hoffman.
A new instruction block, known as flex time, will also make up part of secondary students' new daily routine. This flex time could be used for more in-class instruction or remote learning, depending on course selection.
In-class courses taken during this flex period will be limited to 15 people to ensure students do not exceed their maximum 120 school contacts.
Up to 30 students will be allowed to be together during flex time, and the VSB says this can be set up in physically-distanced spaces.
The final block of the day for secondary students will be dedicated to independent learning online.
There will be new spaces in secondary schools —referred to by Hoffman as "equity spaces" —where students will have access to Wi-Fi and digital devices.
These spaces, which will have a teacher supervisor and be set up to allow for physical distancing, will enable students to do their remote work in the school if they want to.
Secondary schools will not have common lunch breaks for students and lockers will not be available.
Health and safety measures
As in June, the VSB plan will restrict entry into all schools to staff and students only. Other visitors can request an appointment through school offices.
There will be enhanced building cleaning, directional signage and reminders to physically distance posted throughout Vancouver schools.
Every student and staff member will be given a face mask and can choose to wear it in the classroom or not.
The masks will be mandatory for secondary students and children in Grades 6 and 7 in common spaces, such as hallways, where physical distancing is not possible.
Staff in both elementary and secondary schools will also wear masks while in high traffic areas, and any time they are outside of the classroom or learning group and they cannot physically distance from others.
VSB says mask use and hygiene will be regularly reviewed in schools and there will be frequent reminders for staff and students about physical distancing practices, respiratory etiquette and the need to stay home if they are sick.
School windows will be open when possible and HVAC systems will be set to increase the intake of outside air and to maximize air exchange in classrooms.
"We want to make sure that all of our students and families are safe when we return to school," said Hoffman Thursday on The Early Edition.
Gord Lau, chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC), said there is still discomfort among parents, primarily concerning elementary school plans.
Lau said there are not many changes being implemented for younger grades and that provincial funding is "negligible" because while it covers the cost of masks and cleaning, it is not enough to help with innovative spacing ideas to keep elementary students safe.
He said parents are also worried because COVID-19 case numbers in B.C. keep rising and much of the direction to districts from the province regarding a return to school was given about a month ago when numbers were lower.
"We are being told it is safe but it is a little off-putting," said Lau.