Although classes will not be resuming as normal this spring, there will be a little more life in the Turtle Mountain School Division institutions in the last month of the school year.
Classes were suspended in March due to the coronavirus, although distance learning continued. Recently, education authorities found there was a limited start up okayed by the province, and TMSD will be taking advantage of it.
“What we have communicated to staff,” explained TMSD Superintendent Tim De Ruyck, “is that effective June 1, they are to return to work on site, no longer to work from home. The remote learning will continue, but we will have the ability to have individual students or small groups come into schools and work with staff.”
De Ruyck said they learned of plans for limited use of schools a week or so ago, but when the province announced the draft of Phase II they were able to move forward.
The province’s guidlines allow up to 24 students per space, to come in and meet with a teacher. At Boissevain School, they will only be allowing 8-10 students maximum per classroom, depending on the age group. This can be for help in pre-assigned work, or for assessments and planning for the next school year. that amount would only be allowed in the gym. Hygiene and social distancing protocols must be maintained.
Although the number of students allowed at one time per instructor would often be the same as a regular TMSD classroom, De Ruyck said that is only the maximum amount allowed by the province. In order to meet coronavirus protocols, keeping everyone two metres apart, it would not be feasible to have those numbers here.
“We don’t expect there are many circumstances that would allow for those numbers. A group that size would not be possible here.”
Students coming in would be by invitation and done case by case. They would be pre-screened upon arrival to make sure they are not symptomatic of COVID-19. No one with symptoms will be allowed in.
De Ruyck said the province was focusing on literacy and numeracy in this plan. He said there would be time for students to go over assignments with teachers, to see if there are any questions, to connect face to face. He added this would also help the transition to the next school year. It would allow a teacher to gather information on students that can be passed on to their next grade’s teacher, information important to the continuance of learning. There will be transition meetings with teachers meeting from one grade to the next.
This might now all happen in the classrooms. De Ruyck said phys ed. teachers might want to engage in some activities in the gymnasiums, perhaps to help rebuild a sense of school community. As well, some teachers and students might meet outside.
“This is not a resumption of classes.” De Ruyck stated, “It is a way to finish off the next few weeks with some contact.”
He added they would not be re-establishing the bus routes, although there might be some use of buses if a student needs to come in and there are transportation issues.
De Ruyck also stressed students are not required to come to school. It is completely at the discretion of parents and caregivers.
This is not completely new territory for the division. De Ruyck said this type of teacher-student consultation has been already happening in the smaller colony schools. They have been setting schedules where small groups of students come in for up to an hour and a half to go over material and then those students leave and are replaced by another group.
“I have talked to the administration of those schools and they are pleased with how this is going.”
The idea was to get some of the planning for this going this week, and then start moving on it next week. De Ruyck said they want the principals to help coordinate the visits in their school. He admits it will take some time to get everything together.
There is also mention in the provincial planning of using schools for day camps within restrictions. The superintendent said there are a few groups who do use TMSD schools for that, but it is not extensive.
De Ruyck added graduation ceremonies are being planned at Boissevain and Killarney Schools. Meetings with school administrations and students have indicated the Classes of 2020 prefer to have a more limited grad this spring than one later. Plans are underway to hold these ceremonies, which will have to be outdoors, where 50 people can meet. Students will be able to get their diplomas and families can watch from their cars. Of course there will be no banquet or other events at this time, but perhaps they can do something along those lines later.
It was no surprise when the province decided there would be no more formal classes in the spring. There has been talk of a fall start up, perhaps as early as August 31. There has also been the idea of repurposing non-instructional days next year. De Ruyck said school used to start up before the Labour Day weekend, and he figures they can do this if necessary with enough advance notice.
It has been an odd end to the school year, and even though not everything is going again, the superintendent said they are happy to at least get some action going in their schools this spring.
“I would say it is good news,” he said. “Even the early feedback on this from the colonies is positive. They say it is good to see the students again. If we keep safe practices, it will be a great end to the school year. This has been a strain on students, staff and families.”
by PAUL RAYNER, Recorder staff