Surrey Schools Superintendent Jordan Tinney says the district is working to design possible models for the return of some in-class instruction, but it depends on new health and safety protocols from the provincial government.
In a video message Friday (May 8), Tinney said that following the Victoria Day long weekend (May 16 to 18) face-to-face instruction will “likely” come after that.
This follows the province unveiling its “Go-Forward Strategy,” which included a decrease in measures that have stifled social lives, the economy – and hopefully, the virus – since implementation in March.
For the Ministry of Education, that includes a “measured phased-in approach to resuming in-class learning, guided by struct health and safety guidelines.” There are five stages, with schools current in “Stage 4.”
“The premier has said that we want to make sure we can do a dry run from the beginning of June to the end of June and we’re not anticipating a big increase in in-class learning until after the long weekend,” he said. “So in that window, May 19 to June 1, I anticipate that we’ll see a significant shift in our current model of offerings.”
Those models, Tinney said, includes a part-time return to face-to-face instruction for kids in kindergarten to Grade 5 and part-time face-to-face instructions for students in grades 6 to 12, as well as continuing remote and online learning.
Tinney added that parents will have the choice to let their child continue learning at home or have some in-person access to their teachers.
“The guidelines that we’re hearing suggest that balance will be the equivalent of alternating days for students in K to 5, and one day a week for students in grades 6 to 12. So school districts are busy now trying to design models and meet the goalposts of those guidelines,” he said.
Tinney said that “nothing has changed” about the district’s overall approach to a return to in-class instruction, “which is slow and steady, caring and connected.”
“We now need to turn our minds to the design of possible models and we still need to wait for the new health and safety protocols and more information from the ministry, which we hear is coming next week,” he explained. “Then we need to place our models up against that new information.
“Where will we begin? We will begin with our people and the need to design our system around their health and safety, and then toward a model that balances face-to-face and online, remote learning in a way that it supports a gradual return.”
He said that “hopefully” these new steps will “pave the way for September and the ability to expand our model even further if the virus remains in check.”
“There’s lots of work to be done, but our administrators, our teachers and our support staff have done remarkable work in rebuilding a system after March 30. We now will have to turn that expertise to the new task, which is bringing a return to once again meeting our students in schools in larger numbers.”
Meantime, Surrey Teachers’ Association president Matt Westphal said there’s an “infinite number of questions about what’s going to need to be in place for it to be safe for everyone.”
Some of those concerns include balancing the face-to-face learning and remote learning, maintaining physical distancing in schools and whether or not employees who are immunocompromised, or have household members who are, will have to come into work.
“The real concern, which Jordan (Tinney) has acknowledged, is the youngest kids… social distancing is foreign to them,” said Westphal. “They don’t really know how to do that. So people really wonder how that can actually work and be safe. Like one Grade 1 teacher, I know she said, ‘I’ve literally had a student sneeze into my mouth once.’ Stuff like that happens.”
There is also the fact that parents will have the choice on whether or not they send their children to school.
“We’re pretty certain that not all parents are going to choose to send their students to school. The premier says it’s voluntary to attend. We can’t say how many, but not all students will be there, but there’s an expectation that they get support,” Westphal noted.
”A lot of teachers are questioning whether it’s worth it for a few weeks worth of in-class time, given all the dislocation involved and then changing the program again because people have settled into a rhythm now. They’re delivering their programming remotely. It’s not the same as it was before, no one thought it would be, so a lot of people wonder whether it actually will be worthwhile.”
Westphal said there is concern about this being “some big experiment” and whether or not staff are “being put at risk in the name of sparking the economy again.”
“The anxiety is still there and I think the ongoing uncertainty, which is still here because even now we don’t know for sure what is going to happen, is just really taking a toll on people.”
– With files from Katya Slepian