Despite “logistical challenges,” Rocky View Schools (RVS) officials believe the district's student re-entry plan was successful.
The topic of student re-entry was discussed at the public school division’s Sept. 10 Board of Trustees meeting – RVS’s first meeting to be held in-person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than six months ago.
“This year, it’s hard and there are lots of moving parts,” Superintendent Greg Luterbach said. “We have online, homeschoolers [and] people leaving RVS to engage in education opportunities somewhere else.”
According to Luterbach, about 22,500 students – 85 per cent of RVS’ enrolment – are attending classes in person, while roughly 3,000 students will participate in online learning. Around 250 students are being homeschooled with support and resources provided by the division.
Luterbach said 120 teachers have been reallocated to teach online this year, while six additional staff members have been hired to support roughly 90 online teachers for grades 1 to 9. These new hires will help connect online teachers with other resources, he added.
“What we don’t want is to have those 120 teachers on their own, feeling like they don’t have support,” he said.
One challenge the division encountered, according to Luterbach, was some families confusing the option of homeschooling with online learning. Though the two options are similar, online learning is still done in a group format, using technologies like Zoom.
“While we had 3,000 people for online, suddenly we had 200 people saying, ‘Oh, we really meant that,’” he said. “Then, there were others raising their hand and saying ‘I know we said that, but we changed our mind’ in both directions. So, it has been a massive logistical challenge.”
In January, families will have a chance to reassess whether they wish to have their child do school in-person or online, Luterbach said. Until then, the district will evaluate each request from families to switch formats on a case-by-case basis.
After the meeting, Board Chair Fiona Gilbert echoed Luterbach’s position that, given the circumstances, RVS’ re-entry plan has been successful.
“I think that’s because of the tremendous efforts put forth by all RVS staff over the last weeks and months to get us ready and welcome students back as safely as possible,” she said. “I’m always amazed by the way RVS staff, right across the division, rises to the challenge to be able to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students.”
Since the start of the school year, Gilbert said, parental feedback has been mostly positive, based on the school council meetings she’s attended. She acknowledged many families were apprehensive about school's reopening, but RVS’s decision to stagger reopenings helped assuage some of that anxiety.
“A lot of it was the anticipation of what was going to happen, but once students arrived for staggered entry [Sept. 2 to 4], I think it really worked very well,” she said. “It helped [to have] a slower, gentle start into school, where it wasn’t going from zero to 100 in one day, but taking it one step at a time. I think that really helped with getting students and families familiar with the public health measures, and it was less overwhelming for teachers.”
As for what the district will do if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19, Gilbert said RVS has put together protocols and processes that are in line with the Alberta government’s outbreak guide for schools.
“It includes working closely with AHS and our regional medical officer of health for our area, and working with them to do what we need to do – communicate out to parents and put those processes in place to maintain monitoring the spread.”
The Alberta government has released a school outbreak map, which shows the current status of COVID-19 in schools across the province. According to the government, the map will identify schools that have two or more confirmed cases of the virus.