By Cole Parkinson
Come the beginning of August, Horizon School Division is hoping to have more answers as to what this coming school year will entail.
“What happened was, the message from the government was ‘you’ll get to know what is happening and where we are going as a province by August 1’,” explained Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools at the Horizon school board’s meeting in June. “Well, it’s pretty hard to do a lot of planning once all of the staff are gone and all of the school’s are gone (for the summer). There is enhanced cleaning and other shifts we have to do like setting up barriers and floor markings and so. Also to create bus routes based on what we think (will happen). There are a thousand scenarios so we have to do some initial planning. We had an initial plan put together before the government released any documentation of any kind and we did share that with all of our staff. We encouraged staff to read it so they have a rough idea of what things could look like.”
With a relatively short turn around in August before the new school term starts on Aug. 31, this summer, much like the rest of 2020, will look a little different at division headquarters. In turn, the division has already been discussing multiple options regarding the outcomes that could come down from the province.
“On June 10 or 12, the government sent out an update for schools because initially, the minister had said there was scenario one, scenario two and scenario three,” continued Tymensen. “One was pretty well back to normal with health guidelines, and back to normal in the sense that everyone would be at school daily. Scenario two, social distancing was much more of a factor, it becomes more important so you necessarily couldn’t get all of the kids in school every day. So in scenario two, the health guidelines are very similar but now you have maybe half the amount of kids in the school at any one time. Scenario three is everyone is back learning from home. Which scenario we are going to be in will be announced by the ministry on August 1. Obviously, whichever one is picked, the expectation is we have plans for all three because if we are in one or two, kids are in school and if we have an outbreak in our community, suddenly school’s could be closed and classes are cancelled again, or schools are open and classes are cancelled. Kids could be learning from home for a month or it could be the schools could be totally closed while they are doing contact tracing in the community to see where the outbreak is coming from.”
On top of three potential scenarios coming in August, there are a multitude of different tasks that could pop up in the school year with dealing with the continued COVID-19 virus.
“That fluctuation between the scenarios is not necessarily our decision, that’s all guided by health,” said Tymensen. “The sense from us is, the target for the new school year and what they are hoping for is scenario one. If it is number one, and there is suddenly an outbreak in say Milk River, Milk River may move into scenario two but every other school division and every other community in Alberta may stay as scenario one. It may be by school or community based on what the outbreaks are.”
In hoping to shut down any potential virus concerns, additional cleaning at Horizon schools is going to happen throughout the day.
“The expectation there is, many school division’s caretakers do a deep clean every night and the expectation is that you actually have some caretakers working during the school day and their focus is on the high touch surface areas. So, doorknobs, handrails, light switches, those kinds of things as an example,” added Tymensen.
Common use items within classrooms that can be shared are also being advised to not be used by students. Gym equipment will be disinfected between classes and as often as possible.
Continued physical distancing between students and staff is going to be a goal of the division coming into the 2020/2021 school year.
While easier said than done, especially with the younger grades, administration is putting plans in place to provide teachers with the best opportunities to keep students spread out.
“Physical distancing is a recommendation, in other words, it’s not thou shall maintain two metres between everybody. It’s keep distance to the best of your ability. In scenario one, if everyone is back in school, you look at your class and don’t put kids in pods or desks facing each other,” said Tymensen, who also touched on how recess may look come late August. “It may start with the entry and exit of the schools staggered. So what the recommendation will be is instead of having all of your kids going out for recess at the same fifteen minutes, you may want to look at, if you’re a K-Grade 9 school, Grades 1-3 go fifteen minutes earlier, than you have your upper middle school and then your junior high 15 minutes later. Instead of having all of the kids playing between grades, the comment would be to, at the best of your ability, try to keep kids pooled together with their classmates.”
Staggering of students changing classes in high school and bus exits are also being discussed by the division.
Not wanting all students to enter and exit the same door, possible designated enter and exit doors are a possibility.
As far as masks within schools, it was explained masks are not going to be enforced as far as the division knows. Another major piece of the puzzle comes to bussing of students to and from school.
“I don’t know how we are going to meet social distancing when you have three kids on a bus seat. That could mean two-thirds of our kids in some cases, there is no space on the bus. I know some school divisions have said to meet social distancing requirements and health guidelines, they are removing all non-eligible students off the bus,” stated Tymensen. “As a board, I’ll say you are pretty generous in terms of transportation. I say generous because you allow individuals who live less than 2.4 kilometres to get on the bus if there is space on the bus. You allow kids to go to the school of their choice and get bussed if there is space on the bus. The dilemma becomes now there really isn’t any space on the bus for those individuals to meet social distancing guidelines.”
Assigned seating for each bus is something that may be explored with first students entering the bus sitting in the back and so on.
School’s will also need to have dropoff procedures in place for parents and students.
From a survey submitted to Horizon parents, administration reported 85-90 per cent had responded saying they were interested in having their kids back to school come fall.
In terms of transportation, around 80 per cent responded saying they were in favour of driving their kids or letting them walk to school.
“My recommendation would be that if we are in scenario one, the 2.4 kilometres if we can’t get the kids on the bus, we remove those kids. If we are in scenario two, those 2.4 kilometres are removed but you also remove the kids who are going to a non-designated school, if need be to maintain social distancing guidelines,” continued Tymensen, who also touched on if busses could double their routes to accommodate a more spaced out transportation method. “There’s not enough busses in Alberta to double every route.”
A motion to remove 2.4-kilometre students under scenario one in the upcoming school year was carried unanimously.
As Alberta Education has highlighted Aug. 1 as a timeline to release additional information for school boards, the Horizon board stated they would be willing to facilitate an additional August meeting earlier in the month to work out the passed along details before their regular Aug. 18 meeting.