The Surrey school district has been offering childcare for kids of essential service workers at four school sites. Classrooms have six to seven students in each, keeping with the social distancing rules. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

COVID-19: ‘There’s no penalty, there’s no pressure’ to return to in-class learning in Surrey

Education minister outlines plan for part-time in-person schooling by June 1

Parents in the Surrey school district, and throughout the province, will have the choice of letting their children return to part-time face-to-face instruction, starting June 1, the Ministry of Education announced Friday (May 15).

In Surrey, that means planning staggered pickups, drop-offs, lunches and recesses and balancing face-to-face and remote learning for more than 73,000 students.

As previously noted by Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney, students in kindergarten to Grade 5 can go back to school for half of the week, while students in grades 6 to 12 can return for one day a week.

Children of essential service workers can continue to use the child-care services.

“For us to comply with the new health and safety guidelines,” explained Tinney in a video message Friday, “parents who choose to have their child attend school in June can expect to have these things: much smaller class sizes, limited movement between classes, much more stringent cleaning and personal hygiene protocols like washing your hands and new classroom routines, such as revised seating, limiting the sharing of supplies as we all keep our distance and stay safe.”

May 15, 2020: Week 8 Message to Surrey Schools Parents, Students & Staff from Surrey Schools on Vimeo.

But it is still entirely voluntary whether or not parents choose to send their children back to school part time.

“This is your choice to come or not to come. There’s no penalty, there’s no pressure,” he said.

Tinney said that he’s heard “many questions and concerns” about moving to this next phase.

“We continue to hear things like a struggle to grasp the practicality of social distancing in a school, particularly for our very young children,” he said. “People wondering, even with limited numbers, how can we manage all the students and their movement during the school day, how will schools manage to clean and maintain the cleanliness of our schools to these new standards?

“Teachers are wondering how they can be expected to teach both online and face-to-face at the same time. Those with compromised immunity, or caring for the elderly at home, are worried about their health and health of their children and family. We heard many parents say that they will not send their child back to school in June, just because it’s actually working pretty well. We also hear some people looking for a return to normalcy and that chance is welcomed.”

READ ALSO: ‘An infinite number of questions’ as Surrey Schools looks to balance face-to-face, remote learning, May 8, 2020

READ ALSO: A look at social distancing at Surrey schools providing childcare, May 9, 2020

But, he noted Surrey has already had a chance to roll out some of these concepts at a smaller scale at the four district sites offering childcare for children of essential service workers.

“We’ve had a chance to see what this looks like in practice. We have already had kids in schools throughout the pandemic, screening for health every day, washing hands, adhering to strict cleaning protocols, all while having fun, playing games and learning a lot, guided by district staff, support staff and teachers,” he said.

“As we take these small sites to scale, our first work is to pay close attention to the health and safety protocols to gather our administrative teams next week and to create concrete options.”

In the meantime, Tinney told parents to keep their child “exactly where they are, learning on the current programs, supported by their teacher at home.”

Districts are expected to have contacted familied by May 22 on details for their return to schooling on June 1.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming outlined more details on what the part-time return to school could look like for those students who choose to go back for partial face-to-face learning during Friday’s announcement.

READ ALSO: B.C. schools to begin part-time class instruction June 1, May 15, 2020

“This won’t be back to the way that school life was before the pandemic,” he said. “There will be strict health and safety standards in place, schools will look significantly different than before the pandemic.”

But he added the provincial government is taking a “cautious, measured approach.”

Fleming said the ministry has new public health guidelines from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the BC Centre for Disease Control, and districts will be “required to implement these measures” and provide their operating plans to the Ministry of Education.

“To make sure whether you live in Surrey, Haida Gwaii or Kamloops or Smithers, the same strict health-and-safety standards apply provincewide and they must be followed by everybody.”

To do things safely, Fleming said districts will need to limit the number of students in a school at any given time “so we can manage physical distance and physical contact between students.” He added that can be done through attending school part time and staggered lunch breaks, recesses, drop-offs and pickups.

“Districts will be reviewing their available spaces in schools,” Fleming noted. “They will adjust things like hallway flows, they will look at reducing the number and sizes of kids congregating in common areas. There will be regular, rigorous cleaning schedule for high-contact surfaces, things like doorknobs, washrooms, keyboards and desks — at least twice a day, while school buildings will have a deep cleaning daily.

“Students, educators and staff will be required to clean their hands upon entering school property. There will be hand sanitizer and cleaning stations available and staff and students and parents must do a self-assessment daily for symptoms of COVID-19, influenza, the common cold. Any student or staff member with any symptoms, however mild, must stay home as that is the case… right across British Columbia.”

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