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Burnaby parents get preview of back-to-school plans

Along with other changes, the high school year will be divided into 10-week quarters.
Back to school
Socially distanced backpacks at Sperling Elementary School speak to anti-COVID-19 measures taken during a partial return to in-class instruction in June.

Hybrid classes and 10-week quarters instead of semesters are among the Burnaby school district’s proposed back-to-school plans for this fall, according to a rough draft sent out to parents this week.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming has ordered school districts to reveal their final school restart plans, complete with anti-COVID-19 measures, to parents no later than Aug. 26.

On Thursday morning, however, Burnaby superintendent Gina Niccoli-Moen gave local parents a preview of the district’s plans, which she said will be forwarded to the Ministry of Education today (Friday) for approval.

In a letter to parents, she said the district will continue to “look at options” but revealed the parts of the plans she anticipates will remain unchanged.

Under the proposed plans, elementary students will attend school every day, according to Niccoli-Moen’s letter.

Their main learning environment will be their classrooms, with instruction from their classroom teacher.

Learning groups – mandated by the province to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to make contact tracing easier – will be created within “like grade levels” and made up of no more than two classrooms in each group.

High school students, meanwhile, will see the year divided into 10-week quarters, with every student attending school every day.

Students in grades 8 and 9 will be placed in a “junior program” and attend school all day.

Students in grades 10, 11 and 12 will be in a “graduate program.”

During each quarter, students in the graduate program will attend one class in person every morning and a second, blended or hybrid class in the afternoon.

They will attend that second, or blended, class in person two afternoons per week and online for the other days.

For all students, there will be staggered start and dismissal times, staggered lunch and other breaks, as well as controlled traffic flow – all to decrease contacts and hallway interactions.

Schools will enhance cleaning of buildings and high-traffic areas; school-wide assemblies and other large gatherings will be banned; and outdoor learning will be encouraged.

Regular handwashing will be promoted among all staff and students, and anyone with illness symptoms will be required to stay home.

As per a provincial directive announced Monday, students and staff will also be required to wear masks in high-traffic areas, such as hallways.

To allow students to keep learning even if there are changes to the pandemic stage or they are at home sick, all students will have an Office 365 account and be placed within a Microsoft Team assigned to their teacher, Niccoli-Moen said.

“While I know you have many more questions about what school will look like in Burnaby in September, please be assured that we will be in a position to share further details and options with you once our plans are approved by the Ministry of Education early next week,” she said.

As for families of children with special needs, she said staff will be reaching out to them directly.

Niccoli-Moen encouraged parents to wait for the district to announce its ministry-approved plans before making decisions about their kids’ schooling, but she reminded them homeschooling and online distributed learning are also alternatives to what will be happening at local schools come fall.

Students return to school on Sept. 10 and will spend that day and Sept. 11 getting familiar with the new rules and procedures.

Staff return on Sept. 8 to prepare for the changes.

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Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor