By Lethbridge Herald on August 13, 2020.
Lethbridge School Division is preparing to offer a hybrid at-home and in-classroom learning system for the coming school year.
According to Superintendent Cheryl Gilmore, about 17 per cent of families, due to ongoing COVID fears, have opted to begin the school year at home rather than have their children attend class in person this fall, representing about 1,500 students.
“For all of the 1,500 students about 70 to 80 teachers will be assigned out of the schools to at-home learning, and that means we will have 70 to 80 fewer teachers delivering in-school learning. Because we don’t have more funds to hire more teachers, teachers are redistributed according to what the parent chose for learning.”
This will create a complex scheduling problem for schools, she admits, as they seek to have the right balance of teachers working online with students and those working in classrooms. But, Gilmore states, the school division’s first commitment is to ensure both those students at home and those in school receive the same curriculum.
“It will be far more structured than in the spring,” explains Gilmore. “In the spring when the province announced the at-home learning last March, they had required at the elementary level five hours of instruction a week. That looks far different this fall because it is full curriculum delivery for students at home.
“Parents should anticipate the at-home delivery of learning should mirror, and will mirror, the level of rigour students will have in school.”
According to Gilmore, parents who want to start the year with at-home learning or in-class learning will have four different “pivot points” or dates in the course of the school year where they can change their minds and either opt back into the classroom environment or opt out for at-home learning. These dates are prior to the start of the school year, and then before Nov. 10, Jan. 29 or March 31. If parents do not opt out, it is assumed their children will be in class as normal.
Gilmore says for students coming back to school this fall it will also look very different than in previous years. Students in Grades 4-12, unless exempted by a doctor’s note, will be required to wear masks in all common areas and in classrooms when students are facing one another or interacting with one another. Further masking requirements may be imposed depending on how each school needs to address the spacing and physical-distancing issue. Students will remain with the same cohort throughout the day to limit contact between groups, and will have assigned seating in classrooms. The province has also committed to providing two free reusable masks per student and staff member, and additional optional plastic face shields for teachers. Extra hand sanitizer will also be provided for each school.
“There is a very detailed re-entry plan on our website, a parent re-entry plan, and it has about six pages of charts that outline all the health protocols that will be followed in schools,” Gilmore explains. “Those are outlined according to what is in the provincial re-entry plan for Scenario 1. The schools will have specific school guides for their families that will arrive sometime in the week before school starts. That has detailed information (for each school).”
In a parent survey completed in July, Gilmore notes about 50 per cent of families who are eligible for busing have informed the school division they plan to transport their own children to school this fall. For those taking the bus, they will also have assigned seating and be required to exit and enter the bus at different points. Students will be required to wear masks at all times while in transit if they fall under that Grade 4-12 age group unless otherwise exempted.
Gilmore says division staff have put a great deal of effort into preparing for the upcoming school year, and feels the division is ready to meet the challenges of creating a successful and safe learning environment for all students.
“I feel our facilities are prepared,” she states. “They are sanitized. We have all the health protocols in place. Our schools are working on floor markings, entrance ways, and all the protocols that are asked to be in place. With our transportation, we collaborate with the City of Lethbridge for this coming school year and with Holy Spirit.
“Certainly we can’t predict the unpredictable,” Gilmore adds, “and what we are looking at is trying to have optimal flexibility and to be as nimble as we can.”
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