As students head back to the classrooms this year they will have to welcome a host of new rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) and Wild Rose School Division (WRSD) have both implemented a reentry plan which places student and staff safety in the forefront.
Arriving at School
WRSD, including David Thompson High School, will be utilizing a staggered entry program during the first week of school to allow staff to teach students the new protocols with less people in the building.
Brad Volkman, superintendent of schools for WRSD, explained these new protocols include more than just masks, but also proper hand hygiene and cohorts.
Hands need to be sanitized as soon as a student enters the school, before entering or leaving a classroom, and before and after using any equipment.
“These are all things that will help not even just COVID-19, but should help even limit the spread of the common cold and flus,” he said.
WCPS will also be requiring students to practise hand hygiene with sanitizer stations located at every entrance and exit of all schools and classrooms. Students will have a designated door for entry and buses will be staged to ensure students are coming and going in a socially distanced manner.
After entering the building students will go directly to their classroom space with their cohort of students rather than congregating in the halls. No lockers are being used.
“Once they’re in that space, as much as possible, we’re keeping them in that one space and trying to limit the movement of those students to different spaces throughout the day,” said Jayson Lovell, superintendent of schools for WCPS.
Additionally, both school boards are asking parents to perform a daily health check, or screening, for symptoms before sending their children off to school.
Within WCPS, Lovell says, ideally, elementary level students would be in the same classroom space virtually all day with the exception of recess and lunch breaks as they focus on maintaining cohorts.
Classroom spaces are being reconfigured to adhere to the physical distancing requirement of two metres.
“In some of our schools that’s a lot easier than others, for example, Eckville Junior/Senior High School,” explained Lovell.
“In a school like Eckville Junior/Senior High it’s probably manageable and attainable to create that space, whereas in our larger schools we’re going to have some challenges.”
The larger schools, such as École Secondaire Lacombe Composite, are switching to a quartered semester system to help reduce the number of cohorts. This will have students make only one classroom switch during the day at lunch time exposing them to two cohort groups.
If a classroom space is unable to adhere to the two metre requirement, masks will need to be worn by students and staff in the classroom.
In WRSD schools, classrooms where a two metre distance is not possible seating is to be arranged in rows so they are not facing each other. Assigned seating will be utilized within classrooms where possible.
Both boards have strict protocols about isolation should any student or staff member develop symptoms throughout the day.
Physical Education and Music
For both WCPS and WRSD physical education classes are permitted, but are encouraged to be held outside as much as possible.
Activities are to be modified to maintain a social distance and reduce the possibility of transmission as much as possible.
Additionally, music classes are also allowed to go ahead with the exceptions.
WCPS is not allowing, for example, singing or brass instruments, but instruments such as the drums or guitar are OK. WRSD advises alternatives such as “including more lessons focused on music appreciation, composition, history or theory.”
Volkman says the plan is about layering on as many strategies as possible and not relying on any one when it comes to keeping students and staff safe this school year.
“Students and staff health and safety are going to be our number one priority,” he said. “We will be providing excellent learning opportunities, but some of them are going to look different.”
Lovell says he is feeling confident with WCPS’ plan as it makes the most sense to start tight to gauge reentry and then loosen restrictions as it becomes fit.