The Abbotsford School District has released its plan for restarting school in September.
The province had given school districts until Aug. 26 to release their individual plans on how they will manage students while following guidelines laid out by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The Abbotsford School District released its plan to parents this week, after it was approved by the Ministry of Education. The district also sent parents a survey and information about learning options. On Thursday (Aug. 27), school officials will take part in an online question-and-answer session with parents.
The district’s plan lays out specifics about how students will enter schools, when masks will need to be worn, and what will happen if a student tests positive for COVID-19.
The plan says: “These protocols are intended to mitigate or reduce the risk of COVID‐19, but do not completely eliminate all risk. The provincial restart plan’s focus on safety does not depend on one single strategy, but many strategies that work together to support the safest environment possible within the complex dynamics of a school community.”
It states, though, that “most children who are immunocompromised can return to in-class instruction when safety measures are in place” – although such kids should consult a doctor first.
All staff and students will be required to complete “daily health assessments” each day. Such assessments, the district says, “are specific to each site.” Anyone with symptoms cannot attend school.
When a student shows any COVID-19 symptoms, the school district says the child will be in an isolated room, parents will be contacted, staff will disinfect exposure areas and health officials will be notified.
When a positive case is identified, the district says Fraser Health will contact trace to identify exposures, and could recommend testing and/or 14-day isolation. Officials will also get in touch with close contacts.
The plan says: “Parents will be notified if their child has been in contact with a COVID‐positive person and needs to self‐isolate. Students will receive learning support while self‐isolating.”
Fraser Health said in an email it’s unlikely the parents of all students would be notified in the event of a positive case at their child’s school. Rather, those considered likely exposed to the person diagnosed would be notified.
“A positive COVID‐19 case will not automatically lead to a 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,” the plan says. “The school district will support students learning at home if they are required to self‐isolate. The school district will work with the health authority in making these decisions.”
On masks, the plan notes that middle and secondary school students will have to wear non-medical masks in “high-traffic areas, like buses and hallways, or anytime they are outside of their learning group whenever physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
There will be exceptions for those who can’t wear masks for medical reasons. Middle and secondary students will receive two reusable masks during the first week of school.
Masks are not recommended for elementary school students “due to the increased likelihood they will touch their face and eyes,” along with the fact many would need help to remove and put on masks, thereby increasing close contact with school staff.
Physical distancing isn’t always possible in schools, the plan admits. To increase space in schools, excess furniture will be moved from classrooms and traffic controls will be put in place. Seating in common areas will be rearranged to deter students from gathering.
Students, meanwhile, will be in designated cohorts and instructed not to get within two metres of people outside of their group. Elementary and middle school cohorts will be 60 people in size, with each secondary cohort comprising 120 students.
“Cohorts are larger in secondary schools due to the increased ability of children to consistently minimize physical contact, practise hand hygiene, ensure physical distance and recognize and articulate symptoms of illness,” the plan says.
The district is also reducing who can ride school buses. Limits the district says are imposed by the province’s back-to-school requirements mean only the following groups can ride school buses: students with special needs; students living outside their catchment school’s walk limit; those who are forced to transfer to an out-of-catchment school; King Traditional elementary school students; and French immersion students.
Students at other specialized programs, including ASIA Sumas, have been told that they can’t bus their children.
The plan notes that no evidence suggests COVID-19 is transmitted via paper-based products, so those can be shared. Laminated products, though, should be cleaned if touched by multiple people.