Students in School District 8 will have the option to return to school June 1.
Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming announced Friday that students will have the option to voluntarily attend classes on a part-time basis.
Exactly how that will happen is still being worked out by B.C.’s 60 school districts, which have until May 25 to submit their re-opening plans to the ministry.
SD8 superintendent Christine Perkins said parents will receive more information in the coming weeks on how the return will work, which in the Kootenay Lake district includes Nelson, Creston, Salmo, Kaslo, Crawford Bay and Slocan Valley schools.
According to Perkins, meetings have already taken place with the district parent advisory committee, CUPE Local 748, the Kootenay Lake Teachers’ Association, senior staff, student trustees and the board of trustees.
“Of course we want everybody’s support going forward. We may not agree on everything but we want to collaborate on next steps,” she said.
Perkins said returning to class, even on a part-time schedule, will serve in part as a test run for September when Horgan has said he hopes schools will resume full-time classes. The final day of classes for the current academic year is June 25.
“I think it’s a good way to end the year, and a positive way to end the year,” said Perkins.
“All of this we’ve been doing during the pandemic is like building an aircraft in mid-flight. We’ve never weathered this storm before, we’re doing it together, we’re trying to do it collaboratively.”
Perkins said kindergarten to Grade 5 schools will operate at 50 per cent capacity on any given day, which means classes will be split up and students won’t attend Monday through Friday.
Grade 6-to-12 schools meanwhile will be open daily to just 20 per cent of their students, who Perkins said will likely make appointments to visit with their instructors.
Families who opt to continue remote learning through the end of the school year will be able to do so, she said.
Staff and students won’t be required to wear non-medical masks, although those who wish to will be allowed. Playgrounds will be available for use by students, with hygiene stations set up at every entrance as well as throughout the school.
“Bonnie Henry says the No. 1 thing is to wash your hands with soap and water, so we’re going to continue to encourage washing hands, washing hands, washing hands,” said Perkins. “It will be nonstop.”
Provincial restrictions in March, made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, closed schools to students during spring break. Since then, 5,000 children of essential workers have been allowed back, according to the education ministry.
Grade 12 graduation ceremonies have been scrapped, but Perkins said schools are working out alternatives. She said she hopes the final month of school provides some closure for this year’s grads.
“I feel really badly for Grade 12s. It’s just heartbreaking. It’s been over 100 years since a pandemic so they are unique in this situation,” said Perkins.
“But the one thing I can say about the ones who have talked to me already about going back or being able to drop in, they really crave that connection. They want to see their friends again, they want to see their teachers. So of course, just the connection and closure piece will be beneficial to all of them.”
Meanwhile, some private schools in Nelson are also planning to re-open.
The Nelson Waldorf School’s education director Phil Fertey told the Star that Waldorf will hope to follow suit once it receives direction from the Federation of Independent Schools next week. He noted Waldorf’s academic year ends June 11, so any return will be an abbreviated one.
Nelson Christian School superintendent Kevin Bernhardt said his school is also working on a plan to re-open June 1 after a survey showed about half the families questioned indicated they would voluntarily return. Bernhardt added online education would also continue for students who prefer to remain home.
St. Joseph School principal Marlene Suter said her school will also open, and that plans are currently being finalized.
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