ROCKY VIEW COUNTY— The safety of students and staff was top of mind at a special meeting of the Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees.
During the special board meeting on Thursday (Aug. 20) trustees officially changed the 2020-2021 school calendar to allow for a staggered re-entry of students, an increase to the caretaking staff budget and confirmed public meetings would take place in-person during scenario one or two of in-class learning.
Superintendent Greg Luterbach provided details of these changes during his report to the trustees prior to their approval.
“We felt we needed a non-typical start and we really focused around being able to support our students as they come back into school life,” Luterbach said. “There’s going to be lots of changes in our schools.”
Due to these changes, Luterbach said the administration of Rocky View Schools thought a staggered reentry would serve as an opportunity to acclimatize students to the new normal of COVID-19 public health measures.
Children will attend school during the first week in smaller groups so they can become familiar with new health measures that are in place.
The board of trustees unanimously approved allowing Sept. 2, 3 and 4 as staggered entry days for students. Schools will be able to make their own plans on how days will be divided between grades, and buses will be running on regular routes during this time. Full classroom instruction will begin on Sept. 8.
“This is not a typical year,” Luterbach said. “We think this time spent on transition will be valuable to help support both students and staff get off to a positive start.”
Ward Three Trustee Melyssa Bowen said the changes to the school schedule made sense because of the challenging time students, family and staff will face during reentry.
She added the staggered reentry will give students and staff the best start to the year by allowing them to have time to adjust to the new public health measures in place.
Echoing Bowen, Ward One Trustee Shali Baziuk said she appreciated a plan together for a staggered reentry because it will help students who are transitioning between elementary and middle school, or middle school and high school.
“They haven’t had the opportunity to have their orientation day the way we used to do,” Baziuk said. “This is a nice soft start into school for them.”
As part of adjusting operations for COVID-19 trustees approved the funding for a full complement of cleaners and eight additional floaters, casual employees, to enhance the cleaning and sanitizing of Rocky View Schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Associate Superintendent of Business and Operations Larry Paul said as Rocky View Schools has prepared for the reopening of schools it has become clear more caretakers will be needed to ensure schools are kept as clean possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved funds of up to $2 million from the operations and maintenance reserves for the additional costs of caretaking in schools.
“We wouldn’t necessarily go and take the full two million dollars, but we need to have a source to access up to that amount to ensure that we know we’re going to be balanced and not put the school division into a deficit,” Paul said. “We’re hoping we wouldn’t have to go that far.”
Rocky View Schools has been able to maintain enhanced cleaning and disinfecting while schools have been closed, but this will be difficult to manage as staff and students return to schools.
“Those caretaking staff are now going to have to resume their regular duties to do the regular cleaning and maintenance of the school … We are now faced with an issue of not being able to meet the higher levels of cleaning and disinfecting practices with the existing staff,” Paul said.
It was important to support this motion, Baziuk said, because now is the time for an abundance of caution when it comes to keeping students and staff safe.
She commended the planning and logistics that have been put in place in anticipation of the new school year.
Board chair Fiona Gilbert said while $2 million is a big price tag it is a necessary spend for the school board. She added they are continuing to have a conversation with the provincial government and MLAs asking for support for some of the additional costs school boards now face due to COVID-19.
She noted that as of Thursday's meeting there had been no indication school boards would be receiving any further additional funds from the province.
“We can’t wait any longer we need to get these people in these positions now,” Gilbert said. “We need them trained and in our schools keeping our schools as safe as we possibly can.”