Okanagan-Skaha school district plans return to classes amid coronavirus pandemic

Click to play video 'A delayed start to the September school year' A delayed start to the September school year
WATCH: BC students are waiting to find out when they'll be returning to in-class learning after the B.C. Government announced the Sept. 8th start date is being pushed back.

As kids enjoy the rest of summer, school administrators are working around the clock to ensure plans are in place for schools to reopen, with full-time, in-class instruction resuming in just four weeks.

The start of the school year has been pushed back two days to Sept. 10.

“We’ve got a couple of extra days to work with our school staffs around the safety and the guidelines from Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Centre for Disease Control,” said Todd Manuel, superintendent of schools for the Okanagan-Skaha school district.

Manuel said the district is following the Ministry of Education’s directive to organize staff, teachers and students into learning groups, or cohorts.

Read more: Masks to play ‘significant role’ in B.C. schools this fall, says education minister

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The cohort includes up to 60 people in elementary and middle school and no more than 120 people in secondary school.

The move is in a bid to reduce social interaction and ensure quicker contract tracing, if needed.

Click to play video 'Premier John Horgan calls back-to-school in September an ‘unprecedented challenge’' Premier John Horgan calls back-to-school in September an ‘unprecedented challenge’
Premier John Horgan calls back-to-school in September an ‘unprecedented challenge’

Sanitation will be ramped up, masks available upon request, and administrators are considering altered schedules and staggered start times and break times, Manuel said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Details revealed for B.C’s return-to-school plan in September

As for masks, he said wearing them will be a personal choice but not required within a learning cohort.

“In those settings, those cohorts do not need to have masks. We do have clarity that when we are working outside of those groups, we have to have social distancing measures in place, and then we will need to look at masks as an option as well in some of those settings where those cohorts aren’t together,” Manuel said.

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“And for our buses, we will have the expectations that masks are worn.”

Click to play video 'Dr. Bonnie Henry announces creation of ‘learning groups’ for return to B.C. classrooms' Dr. Bonnie Henry announces creation of ‘learning groups’ for return to B.C. classrooms
Dr. Bonnie Henry announces creation of ‘learning groups’ for return to B.C. classrooms

Some families like the Bakers are looking forward to re-establishing a normal routine but are keen to learn more details of the re-start plan.

“We will have to see how it goes when they are back in school, what the numbers look like and what protocols the schools have in place,” said Crystal Baker, a Penticton parent.

“I’m just very happy to go back to school. It’s going to be a big change, but I think a good change ,” said her son, Tyler, who is going into Grade 8.

Read more: Coronavirus: Central Okanagan Public Schools working on local plan for September return

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Another parent, Melissa Klatt, said she is considering homeschooling for her daughter, who is entering kindergarten in September.

“I’m just more worried about what that’s going to be like for her, so is the first impression going to be a positive, fun, educational one, or is going to be a little bit more fearful, a little bit more creating her to be super cautious?” she said.

Manuel said he understands parents’ anxiety but is confident in the advice from public health experts.

“We have lots of confidence that as those students arrive again, we will be able to teach the protocols that Dr. Henry has provided and have a safe start up to our school year,” he said.

The district says it will submit its restart plan to the Ministry of Education by Aug. 21 and once signed off by the province, those plans will be made public on Wednesday, Aug. 26.

You can read superintendent Todd Manuel’s letter to parents, guardians and students here.