‘Students will be asked to stay still’: B.C. parents get clearer picture of back to school requirements

From taped markings around desks to strictly scheduled washroom breaks, some B.C. parents are getting a clearer picture of what their children’s school day will look like should they decide to return to school in June.

Students last attended school full-time on March 13, the day before spring break started. But to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in-class learning never resumed and kids have been home ever since doing online-based school assignments.

The province has now given parents the choice of sending kids back to school part-time starting June 1. The plan is for children in kindergarten to Grade 5 to attend two days a week, while students in Grades 6 and 7 would go just one day a week and high school students would mostly continue remote learning.

A May 19 email sent to parents from Maple Grove Elementary in Vancouver outlines the precautions the school will take. The school is part of the B.C. public school system, but offers a Montessori program.

Pick-up and drop-off will be staggered, and students’ desks will be spaced two metres apart. Each desk will have a square taped around it, according to the email, and will have to put their hand up if they want to leave their desks.

“Students will be asked to stay still until asked to move,” the email states.

There will also be directional pathways taped onto hallway floors, and washroom breaks will be scheduled, which just one student allowed to use the bathroom at a time. The gym will be closed, and recess will be “staggered and scheduled to avoid other classes.”

The email warns parents: “Please consider the impact for your child if they have difficulty managing their bodies or following these new expectations.”

An FAQ from the Vancouver School Board laid out similar guidelines, and said children will be reminded to avoid close greetings like hugs and high-fives. The FAQ also said 124 new faucets have been installed to replace old faucets to make sure students can frequently wash their hands.

Jordan Tinney, the superintendent for Surrey schools, said while there is a provincial framework for schools as they reopen, there will be slight differences depending on the school and school district.

He said the overall approach is to reduce the number of students in schools at any one time. For younger elementary school students, this means bringing students in on staggered days, while for high school students, giving them the option to mostly keep learning from home but go to school to get help in specific areas from teachers.

Tinney emphasized the choice is up to parents, but the partial reopening is important to make sure schools are really to fully open in September.

“Sooner or later we’ve got to get kids back in buildings, I think I heard the premier say we’ll do a dry run in June and let parents make the choice and we’ll do all the things we need to do to keep people safe and well-educated,” he said.

The Vancouver School Board has also sent parents a survey to get information on who is coming back and which families have decided to continue with online learning at home.

The B.C. government says children are at a much lower risk to contract COVID-19, although the provincial health officer has said health officials are closely watching a rare condition that has affected children who have contracted the virus in other parts of the world.

Teachers, support staff and students won’t be required to wear masks or other personal protective equipment, according the the Ministry of Education’s guidance to schools. Children of essential workers, special needs students and vulnerable students can attend school full-time.

School districts must submit their plan for reopening to the Ministry of Education by May 22.

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