The Surrey School District anticipates that by the end of this week roughly 25 to 30 per cent of the city’s 74,000 students will have returned to class.
“Staff worked really hard last week, so things were really organized and the students followed all the new protocols. One principal did tell me that students were anxious and a little nervous in the morning but were much more relaxed by the end of the day,” said Ritinder Matthew, communications manager for Surrey Schools, on Tuesday. “That was elementary.”
After more than two months away from schools, about 5,500 Surrey students returned to their classrooms on Monday, June 1 – albeit with a much different look.
“We’re anticipating 5,500 for today; I don’t have the numbers today yet,” Matthew said at press time Tuesday. “This is a different group than yesterday’s right.
”What we’re projecting, based on an attendance survey that we did last week, is about 25 to 30 per cent of our regular enrollment. It’s about in line with what we were anticipating and I think most districts were anticipating around the same number.”
The Ministry of Education suspended in-classroom instruction on March 16, just as spring break was starting. Students have been learning through various forms of remote learning, while some – whose parents are essential service workers or those that have special needs – have still been going to school for childcare.
Since Monday, elementary students have been going to school on alternating days, either Monday/Tuesday or Thursday/Friday. Students in kindergarten to Grade 5 are receiving two days of instruction, while students in grades 6 and 7 receive one day each.
High school students are following a “tutorial model” where they can sign up through a set schedule of times and “receive face-to-face support from their teachers.” The district says that will add up to the equivalent of one day.
On Wednesdays, the “vast majority” will be working from home along with their teachers, according to the school district.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said Tuesday that on June 1, about 60,000 children returned to school in B.C. “About a third of kids in British Columbia are utilizing return to part-time, limited instruction and that’s fantastic,” he said. “And teachers are supporting the other kids who don’t return, through the continuation of remote on-line learning.”
Meantime, about 90 per cent of B.C.’s teachers are back in the classroom. The rest, Fleming said, “have been given accommodation to continue working off-site, typically in their homes.”
Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney noted there are other “new routines to get used to,” such as “much smaller” class sizes, sitting further apart, regular hand washing when moving throughout the school, and daily health checks for staff and students. Some materials will not be available to students, there are constant reminders about physical distancing, and parents or visitors will not be allowed into the building “in the usual ways.”
“For parents, all of these things, and the normal routines that you see in grocery stores when you are out and about, those are the types of things your children will now see in schools,” Tinney noted. “All of us have a role to play and it’s about all of us doing our part. This truly is the next phase in our ‘new normal’ and many of the things you are seeing now, likely will be in place in September.
Tinney said he has had “many people ask me why we are opening now.”
There are three main reasons why, he said: Because the schools and communities “are making progress on battling COVID-19, because “children need us,” and because “we will continue to live in a pandemic and need to begin to transition to September, to walk into the halls and classrooms of our schools, and to not just hear that it’s safe, but to feel and experience it as well.”
Tinney said it’s up to parents whether to send their children back to school.
“Whether you remain at home or whether you come in, we will be here for you,” he said. “In schools, it will not be perfect on day (one). We have never done this before, and this is our first opportunity to see how many children arrive and just how we will structure what is a new chapter for us.”