Director of Education shares thoughts on reopening schools, classrooms

 “Education is a social endeavour,”

That statement was made by the South East Cornerstone Public School Division’s Director of Education, Lynn Little near the end of a half-hour interview on June 22.

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Following guidelines developed by the Ministry of Health, including the lead medical consultant, Dr. Saqib Shahab, and the Ministry of Education, and the Education Response Planning Team, the province’s regional school divisions are assembling plans that will enable teachers and students to get together again in a classroom setting.

With schools set to open on September 1, Little said time was of the essence since there would be a lot to do in the interim.

“We were provided guidelines to support the health and the safety of students and staff in the form of a framework,” said Little, referring to the June 18 on-line consultations with provincial authorities.

Those wishing to view the status of some on these educational outlines can access them through the Reopen Saskatchewan website.

Little said provincial school divisions are being given local autonomy and within that, there will be different looks in different schools since each facility will be given the opportunity and duty to align with the proposed guidelines.

“A Grade 1 to 6 school will align differently from a high school, for instance,” she said. “The structure will be different. In some schools the teacher moves from classroom to classroom, in others, the students may still have to move to a limited extent to accommodate the classes being taught.”

The goal is then to minimize physical contact in the school and on the school grounds. Desks may need to be realigned to accommodate better social distancing while recess and lunch periods may be staggered. Entries and exits to schools might be rearranged to acknowledge the fact many schools have tight hallways.

On the program delivery side, the director said Cornerstone’s Cyber Stone on-line offerings will undergo a significant expansion to include not only Grade 8 to 12 programs, but now, all the elementary grades as well, with the assistance of helpful parents who can support on-line learning programs. “We have expanded the core curriculum for Grades 8 and 9 that formerly offered four cores. They will have the full seven cores, the same as Grades 10 to 12,” she said. 

“With Cyber Stone, the teachers will be assigned to conduct these classes on-line and they will be responsible for their delivery. That is different from home schooling where the parent is responsible for delivering the program,” she said.

Little said with the additional demands expected to arise at Cyber Stone, there could be a call made for additional teaching positions, but that has yet to be determined. This will provide an option for parents and children to access full curriculum in an on-line environment as opposed to attendance in a physical school.  It offers another option.

Cornerstone teachers, in the meantime, have been checking in with the division’s administration teams, expressing excitement at being able to get back into a classroom setting, but also issuing statements of concern regarding safety. Little said she understood the mixed emotions that are accompanying the guidelines as they continue to roll out.

“It’s still a little unsettling, and I think it will be for a while. The reconnection will help, but there will be questions, just like there has been for the general public with the reopening of businesses.”

The advice being given by the consultants is to work with local medical officers and take a lead from those experts. If there are any outbreaks of the COVID-19 virus within schools or among the school populations, there are guidelines to follow.

“We are talking about the regular items such as hand hygiene, soap and sanitizers. We are recommending that staff and students carry sanitizers. There is no recommendations or demands to wear the masks. That will be a personal choice for staff members and students,” Little added.

If glass partitions are seen as being necessary in some areas, they will be installed.

Little said public access to the schools will be very limited, at best, since there will be a need to do contact tracing in the event of an outbreak in any of the schools.

Extra curricular activities will be moving out on a restricted and individual school basis once more is known.

 

There will be additional costs, but seeing that schools and the division witnessed a significant saving with the early shut down in March, these savings will now be applied to meeting the expected additional costs associated with reopening schools this fall.

 

“There will be increased cleaning instructions for high touch areas in the schools and then a thorough cleaning of the schools at the end of each school day,” she said. That will not come without an additional cost, although the current maintenance and janitorial structures will need to be accommodated as the plans roll out.

In the meantime, the communications will continue. Little said provincial school administrators have been engaging in conference calls with their counterparts and members of the newly created Education Response Planning Team that consists of Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation representatives as well as Saskatchewan School Board Association officers in concert with the Health and Education Ministries.

“We are having the conversations and we are being updated in a timely manner. There is a lot of back and forth discussion. We are aligning the pieces to get the information out to the schools and the principals at each school are working in and on areas they can deal with now for the coming school year,” Little said.

Asked how she felt personally about the current environment heading into a new school year that definitely won’t be the same as other school year beginnings, Little said, “again the challenge is the time. But things will be put in place and be ready to go to help folks feel more confident and comfortable.”

In the meantime, the general public can be armed with the knowledge there are assurances being built into the system to consider all possibilities and needs, as students, teachers and support staffers get ready to get back to those schools.

That means Cornerstone administration wants to make the school opening experiences as normal as possible under current and future circumstances.

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