June is the last month of the school year, but in the topsy-turvy world of 2020, it was also a time to return to class.
Students, or some of them at least, did come back to class as schools around the province opened up partway, with students having the option to attend in person for part of the work. Throughout the spring, all but a few had been forced to work from home because of pandemic restrictions starting in mid-March.
At the June 23 board meeting, senior management updated school trustees about how the return to class for the final month of the school year went in the Comox Valley. The school district had to bring in enhanced public safety measures and had limits on the numbers allowed in class at one time.
Director of instructor Allan Douglas provided an overview of elementary schools.
“We have about 50 per cent of our kids in elementary school back, some schools a little higher, some a little lower,” he said.
Reports, he said, have shown the kids were happy to be getting back into class and normal routines. Some students were coming Mondays and Tuesdays, others Thursdays and Fridays, with teachers continuing with online learning on Wednesdays. Students needing extra support or who are children of essential workers could attend all five days.
“Everybody’s been working together to make this work,” he said.
Many schools have offered lots of outdoor time, which helped with distancing protocols.
The schools have also been working on how to get supplies and materials to children who did not come back to the classroom in June. Before- and after-school child care was also open in a lot of the schools, which Douglas said pleased many parents.
“For a lot of them it feels like business as usual,” he said.
For secondary schools, assistant superintendent Geoff Manning outlined the situation for the board.
“Secondary might have been a little bit more complicated than elementary,” he said.
The numbers coming back for face-to-face class time was more like 20 per cent. Graduation also had to be handled differently, with the students graduating from their vehicles during their ceremonies.
“There was a lot of work put into that in rerouting those plans, and there was a lot of work by teachers in going from face to face to almost entirely online,” he said. “I think our teachers did an outstanding job, and we built a lot of capacity at secondary.”
Manning expects school in the fall for secondary to be different from elementary.
“We’re going to be coming back to some form of blended learning,” he said. “Teachers are really trying to prepare for that.”
The past month did provide a challenge, Manning added, as the district did not want to punish students for the COVID-19 situation but at the same time needed to make sure students were keeping up with what they needed to learn. He described it as a “balancing act,” though each of the secondary schools was able eventually to make it work.
As for what the school district can expect now, superintendent Tom Demeo said the Ministry of Education does not plan on making any major announcements until the latter half of August. However, he said with the pandemic plan being set up in five stages – with one being normal classroom activities and five being total shutdown – the district has experience now with both extremes and, most recently, with stages four and three.
“The only stage that’s really left for us is stage two,” he said.
This translates into K-7 classes five days a week and grades 8 to 12 for two days a week, or about 40 per cent of time in class. For the district to move toward this, Demeo said, much will depend on what happens with the public health situation over the summer.
“Right now, it’s a bit of a guessing game,” he said.