Back to School FAQ's - Scenario 1

Posted on 07/24/2020
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A Note to Families

The answers to the frequently asked questions below are based on what we know today. The Alberta government has announced that we will re-enter in scenario 1 this fall. It is important to note that between this date and the beginning of the school year we may receive different direction from government.

Scenario 1: Return to near normal operations and routines in schools, with additional health restrictions implemented

Scenario 2: Schools are open for classes, with some health restrictions that affect operations (i.e. 2m of physical distancing (wherever possible), not all students attending in class sessions at the same time)

Scenario 3: In-person classes remain cancelled and students continue to learn from home

Who decides which scenario we will re-enter school in?

The Alberta government has made the decision to re-enter in scenario 1 and will continue to make all future decisions about which scenario is to be applied in Alberta schools. In the coming weeks they may issue new direction with respect to public health measures or programming that changes the answers below prior to school starting again in the fall. If the rate of infection increases in our region, we may need to move to scenario 2 or 3 with little notice. As always, we will do our best to keep you up to date with their direction and its impact on our school re-entry planning.

While we really can’t wait to see our students face to face, we are committed to doing safely.

How long will my Grade 1-9 child's school day be?

Your child’s school day should not be dramatically different from the regular school days prior to COVID-19.

What about Play and Learn?

During both scenario1 and 2 Play and Learn will continue to operate.

Will my child or staff be required to wear a mask?

No.  Currently students and staff are welcome to wear a mask but are not to be pressured either way. Staff will be provided with masks (and face shields when necessary). Parents are welcome to send masks to school with their children. 

Will my elementary aged child get recess?

Yes. Recess will happen, and students will have a chance to play with their classmates. Recesses will be staggered so that fewer children are on the playground and class sets of play equipment will be provided. Low contact games and activities that support reasonable distancing will be encouraged. 

What about options and "fun" classes?

"Near normal" return means that just about all classes will operate in scenario 1. Our Occupational Health and Safety Coordinator has worked with teachers of classes such as, but not limited to, Foods, Fashion, Physical Education and Music, in order to safely continue these programs for students. Most programs will be able to function with limited modifications.

Physical Education and Music are classes that require a good deal of attention to provincial direction. Activities will need to be modified to meet the direction/guidance of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. 

To date, we are not permitted to sing or play “wind” instruments in schools. Band and Music teachers are preparing to transition their programs to other instruments (strings, percussion) in order to provide quality music instruction during scenario 1.

Preference for participation in physical education will be for those activities that allow students to use their own equipment and those that do not encourage physical contact (yoga, running, individual skills). Alberta Education is working with Alberta Health and education partners, including the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association, to explore future possibilities for athletic activities and events within the context of health measures being in place.

Your child’s teacher will be aware of measures that will need to be taken to mitigate potential spread of the virus. 

Who will do the enhanced cleaning?

Custodial staff will be engaged in more frequent cleaning. Daytime custodians are present so that ongoing cleaning of “high touch” surfaces (doorknobs and so on) and common spaces (bathrooms) can be conducted frequently throughout the day.

Cohorting (see next question) is being done in elementary and, for the most part, in middle school. This, coupled with strictly limiting the sharing of space and materials will reduce the need for frequent cleaning of student workspaces.  That said, students (where age appropriate) and staff will all have to do their part to clean personal workspaces.

Gentle, non-toxic cleaning products (approved by Health Canada) will be available to staff and students for occasional use. Only custodial staff and other, selected, support staff will work with cleaning supplies other than those described here.

Will you cohort high school students?

No.  Cohorting high school students is far too complex due to the level of choice and specialization that students have at that level. 

In order to limit the number of transitions and opportunities for interaction during the school day, we are shifting to a “quartered” system at our two “traditional” high schools.  This means that a full-time student would attend two classes for roughly ten weeks.  These classes will be very long, and so scheduled breaks will be provided within these classes to avoid crowding hallways. Lunch breaks will be staggered as well.

Students in 30 level courses will be able to write diploma exams in November, January, April and June.

The added benefit of the “quartered” system is that both teachers and students will have fewer classes to track and attend to should we transition to either of scenarios 2 or 3.

Will my child be required to sit at their desk all day?

No.  "Near normal" return to school means students will be able to move around their classroom and work with their classmates. Our staff will make every effort to maintain physical distancing when reasonable to do so. Part of why classes are being kept together as much as possible is to create (within the school day) a “cohort” where students and staff can work together in as normal a way as possible. 

What about hallways and transitions?

Schools will have set procedures to limit the number of transitions and the number of students out and about in the halls at any given time.  However, measures like assigned entry doors for classes or grades and the use of directional arrows (not unlike what we see in commercial spaces) will help us meet the guidelines of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Will school bus transportation still be provided?

Yes.  However, this is the most challenging place for us to support physical distancing and respiratory hygiene. 

We are encouraging families have their children walk or ride their bike to school or to drive their children to and from school whenever possible in order to reduce the number of riders on each bus. We will also be initiating rider registration in early August. No student will be permitted to ride unless they are registered. All buses will have seating plans and attendance procedures, back to front loading on the way to school and PPE for drivers. 

Some students who have been permitted to ride in the past, but who do not qualify under provincial regulations or MHPSD policy, may not be permitted to continue to ride in the 2020-2021 school year. 

These measures will allow us to provide appropriate contact tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19 and has used school bus transportation.

What is required before I send my child to school?

A COVID-19 checklist will be provided to all families. If you can answer no to all the questions on the COVID-19 checklist, you may send your child to school. All parents and guardians will be asked to sign a declaration affirming their commitment to completing the COVID-19 checklist prior to sending their child to school or on the bus. Staff will be required to sign the same declaration and complete the COVID-19 checklist before leaving for work.

This checklist is not to be submitted daily. We trust that each school community will honour the need for this new, morning routine and will follow through. 

What if someone gets sick at school?

Anyone who develops symptoms while on the school bus or while at school will be required to wear a mask immediately. They will be, as directed by Alberta's Medical Officer of Health, directed to an isolation space and their parents/guardians will be contacted for immediate pick-up. 

No one directed home due to the onset of symptoms will be permitted to return until they confirm a negative COVID-19 test. 

If your child has a known, pre-existing condition that causes COVD-19 symptoms, they should be tested to confirm that COVID-19 is not the cause of the symptoms and to establish a “baseline” for staff.

Should two or more members of a cohort develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19, we will initiate the “outbreak notification procedure” that is to be provided by Alberta Health Services prior to the beginning of the school year.

What will happen if someone tests positive for COVID-19? How will parents be notified?

If a child or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, Alberta's contact tracing process is initiated, and the school will be contacted. Students or staff that have tested positive for COVID-19 are not permitted on any MHPSD property until after the 14 day quarantine period has ended.

The zone medical officer of health will work with school authorities to quickly:

  • identify cases
  • identify close contacts
  • create isolation measures when needed

The zone medical officer of health will work with school authorities to provide follow-up recommendations.

A COVID-19 case will not automatically lead to school closure. It could be that only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will be required to stay home for 14 days.

Parents will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed at school and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with the person. We will support students and staff to learn or work at home if they are required to self-isolate.

If an individual who has tested positive comes to school (or was sent to school) we would soon become aware through the contact tracing process. In this case, we are obligated to notify Alberta Health Services and they would issue consequences as supported by regulation. 

Will parents and volunteers be permitted in schools?

Parents and volunteers are not permitted in schools unless by appointment.  If attending an appointment at the school, parents are asked to call the school on arrival, wait in their vehicle and they will be admitted by a member of the staff.  All visitors will be required to complete a COVID-19 health check immediately upon arrival.

ELP and Kindergarten families will be invited to come to the school to meet their teacher and see their classroom prior to the beginning of the school year.  Unfortunately, once the school year begins, parents and guardians will not be permitted to enter schools at drop off and pick-up. Parents are welcome to walk their children to outside doors if they respect physical distancing.

What will be done for students who don't attend in-person classes?

Face to face learning is almost always better for students and we strongly encourage in-person attendance. Some parents and guardians are concerned enough about COVID-19 that they would prefer to keep their children home. Some need to remain home during the pandemic due their own health or that of a loved one. Our system, and each school, has plans to address this need. 

All programming is being planned in Google Classroom. It is expected that lesson materials and assignments be provided there for all students and that will be the place where work will be submitted, and feedback is provided. We have built time into our schedules so that teachers can support at-home learners. However, we have a contingency built into our plan where, if numbers warrant, students may be assigned to a teacher who has volunteered to work exclusively in the support of students who are learning from home. (See next question)

Every student (with the exception of students in kindergarten, grade one and grade two) will need a device of their own that can come to school and go home with them. For this reason, our Board recently voted to support families in the cost-reduced purchase of Chromebooks for students. If a student already has their own reliable device that can operate google classroom and can be used to go back and forth between home and school, they are welcome to use it instead of receiving a Chromebook from MHPSD. Details such as device cost and purchase plans will be sent out with our full re-entry plan on August 1. We have also developed a plan to support families that do not have, and who are unable to purchase, a device for their child. Children in kindergarten, grade one and grade two will have access to a Chromebook in the classroom but will not take it home with them at the end of the day. If at any point we move into scenario 2 or 3 all students in Kindergarten - grade 2 will have access to a device that can go home with them. 

Depending on their comfort, some teachers may broadcast live lessons (no video of students in classrooms is to be part of this), some may record the lesson and post later and others may record lessons and post them in advance of the day. Teachers will attempt to monitor Google Hangouts to answer questions throughout the day and school administrators will provide time in the day for teachers to engage with at home students. 

Again, face to face is almost always better and we strongly encourage attendance at school. Whatever your decision, we appreciate your patience as this will be a very fluid and complicated school year; one where just about everything we do is just a little (or a lot) different from what we are used to. Our teachers care deeply about your children. We want to do well. But, to be honest, there is a limit to how much we can do to ensure that at home learning meets the standard we set for ourselves. 

We will do our very best and will regularly review our plan.  

What if my child's teacher or a significant number of students get sick, stay home for school or are forced to self-isolate?

We expect that this will be a challenge this year. We are reaching out to see how many substitute teachers will want to be on our "list" next year and are building protocols for how they will work in this new environment. 

Schools have been teamed so that teachers of the same grade or subject can (with the support of substitute teachers) help one another out if they need to be absent. 

There may be a need to shift students from one teacher's class to another. For example, if enough students in a grade stay home it may be reasonable to shift them to a teacher whose sole focus is supporting at home learning. In fact, this is likely, if a considerable number of students remain at home for school.  Our teachers are working together to align their planning so that outcomes are covered in the same order (if in different ways) so that students can transition back and forth when needed without falling behind.

Again, while the eLearning program will be aligned and most of the work will be provided in Google Classroom, teachers will not be able to exactly mirror the home experience to that of the classroom. 

Before and after school care?

The YMCA intends to operate Before and After School Care in our schools in the Fall. They have already begun working with the licenser and our system to make sure we are ready to go at the start of the school year.

What will happen if my child does not do the work?

Unlike when COVID-19 first emerged, we are not approaching this as an emergency. We are moving into a stage of schooling that is different. It requires creativity, wisdom and care, but it is not an emergency. We can see it coming. Therefore, students and families will need to commit to engaging with school in order to achieve success.

  • High School: High school students who do not engage in a course of study will fail that course.While the principal may assign credits (known as “unassigned credit”) to help a student to get the required number (100) of credits for graduation, they will not permit passing grades in required courses for students who do not do the work. Failure to engage at school, or from home, will have an impact on grade progression and graduation.
  • K-9: Failing (or retention) is more complicated for younger children. Being retained and then attending school with younger students who are, largely, less mature physically and emotionally often has a negative impact on the child who is retained. That being said, if students fail to engage in school and fall far behind their peers in literacy and numeracy (Language Arts and Math) retention may be necessary. This is a decision made by the principal of the school with input from teachers and families.

Will there be any changes to class sizes?

Our division took measures to reduce class sizes in K-9 through the hiring of additional teachers.  This was NOT a response to COVID-19, however, this coupled with the work that school administrators in response to the pandemic is producing a slight decrease in our projected class sizes.

How will hand washing and disinfecting be promoted and supported in the classroom?

Teachers will educate students on appropriate hand and respiratory hygiene. In addition to classroom sinks, hand sanitizer will be available at building and classroom entrances throughout the school and hand hygiene will be performed regularly including when entering and exiting the school and classrooms, and before and after eating. Students will be continually reminded of respiratory etiquette by staff and through the use of age appropriate posters.

Regular, enhanced, and as needed cleaning will be performed by custodial staff, as will monitoring to ensure all necessary supplies are available. Daytime custodians will disinfect contact surfaces and high contact areas. Evening custodial staff will thoroughly clean all areas.

The division will provide cleaning kits for each school that will include spray bottles with approved and properly mixed disinfectant, paper towels, gloves and safety data sheets. School staff will clean and disinfect shared equipment and surfaces between uses and as needed during the course of the school day. Cleaning by staff, other than custodians and other select support staff, will be limited to their own workspace or shared equipment that they have, or are going to, access.

What happens if the government directs us to scenario 2 during the school year?

Scenario 2 is very similar to scenario 1 except for two significant differences.  The number of students in our schools is to be limited significantly and true physical distancing (two meters spacing) becomes more critical.

Students are to be grouped in order to roughly halve the number of students in our schools each day. Exceptions will be made for the following groups of children/students:

  • ELP to Grade 2 students will be able to attend daily. For Kindergarten students, Play and Learn will be available every day as well, making it possible for Kindergarten students to attend school full days every day even in scenario 2.In scenario 2, students in kindergarten to Grade 2 may need to be re-cohorted to achieve the appropriate group size.
  • Students receiving specialized programming in our congregated specialized programs will be able to attend every day. Of course, this decision will need to be made in consideration of the unique medical needs of some of our students. Our Classroom Support Teachers (CSTs), school principals, classroom teachers and families will work together to build a plan.

All other students will be grouped as Group A and Group B students. Group A will attend Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday. Group B will attend on the alternate days.* Students from the same family will be grouped to attend on the same days even if they attend different schools.* Groupings will be shared with families in the early fall so that you can prepare for scenario 2 if it happens.

*Grouping nearly 7500 students is a complicated task. Our desire is to create predictability for families and to ensure older children can be home with their younger siblings. We will not change attendance days for families.

**Our families come in many forms and so this process will not be perfect. We will use PowerSchool to help create our groupings. If, when you receive your grouping assignment, your children are not placed in the same groups, please contact your Principal. We will work it out.

When at school, adherence to physical distancing (whenever possible) will be expected. Teachers and staff who move from one cohort (class) to another will be expected to wear a mask.***  Cohorts will be limited to 15. Expectations of students when transitioning from one space to another and to and from the school bus will include physical distancing.

***Remember that the Alberta Government may update their guidance and, as such, the expectation to wear a mask may expand to include all staff and students.  We await further direction.

What happens if the government directs us to scenario 3 during the school year?

Scenario 3 is very similar to what we experienced in the last three and a half months of the 2019-2020 school year.  Students are unlikely to be able to attend school buildings for any reason.

As was the case for the end of the past school year, teachers will program for students so that they can complete the work at home through Google Classroom.  It is desired that all assignments be completed online and submitted through Google Classroom or another digital means.

A significant difference will be that we are expected to cover significantly more of the curriculum this year, regardless of the scenario. Therefore, unlike this year, high school students who fail to complete their studies are unlikely to receive a passing grade and will almost certainly have to repeat the course in order to graduate or receive credit toward their diploma.  Again, if this move is made by government it does not represent an emergency.  We can see it coming and students need to understand that their learning cannot stop because things change.  Of course, our staff will apply a level of grace to our thinking in these circumstances, but it is critical to note that students will not be gifted credits.

What about field trips and extracurricular activities?

For the most part, field trips (off-site activities) will not be permitted, as the direction from government is to avoid activities that require bus transportation.  Additionally, we are concerned about taking students to other environments away from the school building where we are taking steps to mitigate the spread of the virus.

We are awaiting direction and guidance from the Alberta government and from the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) with respect to extracurricular sports. To date, we believe that entire leagues will be limited to no more than 50 participants and that play will not be permitted outside our immediate zone. Once we receive this direction, the superintendents (along with staff advisors) of the three school divisions in our region will come together to discuss how/if extracurricular sports will proceed.

Extracurricular arts activities are able to proceed, so long as the measures/limitations mentioned above are adhered to.

In all cases, significant limits on spectators and their actions (cheering and yelling) are expected to be in place for some time.

Am I required to purchase school supplies for my child?

Yes, students in grades 1-6 will receive a supply list from their school (available now on your school website). Students in grade 7-12 will receive as a list of supplies from the teachers on the first day of classes. FAQ’s about school supplies.

JULY 27, 2020 UPDATE

How do I choose at home learning for my child?

If your child is registered at an MHPSD school for the 2020-2021 school year, we are committed to supporting them, either through at home or in class learning. Families can choose which option will work best or their child. If you plan to keep your children home, we have planned for this contingency and will support students in their learning needs.

In order to prepare staff and plan resources to support at home learning we need to know if you intend to choose this option. If you want us to support your child with at home learning starting on August 31, 2020, we ask that you fill out the following form. Filling out this form will take less than a minute, we are asking for the child’s first/last name, grade and school. Families are asked to fill out one form for each child registered with MHPSD.  

In filling out this form, you are not making a commitment to keep your child(ren) home for the entire school year. At any point during the year students are welcome to come back to the classroom.

There may be shifts in the pandemic, or in the Alberta Government’s response to it, in the coming weeks that will impact family decisions regarding at home or in class learning. Because of this, we will send out a similar form in the last couple of weeks of August. This will allow us to check and see what changes might have occurred in family choice. This information will be provided to the school, so they are aware of which students to expect in class and which students will require support for home learning.  Again, this is not a decision to which you will be held.  We are prepared for shifting numbers.

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