Classroom learning will be changed in Holy Family schools by the impact of COVID-19

The face of learning for primary and secondary students will likely never be the same again, said education director Gwen Keith at the Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division’s board meeting on Wednesday.

The board met in person for the first time since the lockdowns for COVID-19 began in mid-March, with physical distancing observed and a limit to the number of people in the building for the meeting.

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The first basic fact remains, said Keith. “We remain in a civil emergency in the province, that is where we are.”

She noted that the guidebook for how the school division is proceeding is the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan as set out by the province and the Chief Medical Health Officer, “and these are the rules we are required to follow. … We take direction from the medical officer and the premier in terms of education.”

All schools were shut down on March 20, and students have been voluntarily accessing supplemental learning since then, with the school division providing technology for those families who’ve needed it.

“I’m very proud of the efforts of the staff for those parents who wanted supplemental learning,” said Keith, noting they have now been told that learning could be ended as of June 19, while the staff last day is June 25.

With the return to class now mandated to be on Sept. 1 or as soon after that according to the school division’s calendar, Keith said the school division needs the details on how they’re supposed to operate the schools when they reopen.

As of the meeting date, no details had been provided, but the province has since posted the guidelines for the return to class.

“Knowing the pandemic still exists, we have to address the safety of our people and the students,” said Keith. “We’re having fun doing this, by the way.”

Holy Family has done a couple of surveys of parents about how they’ve been handling the supplemental learning, and Keith said, “They’ve had it with remote learning.”

Noting that the guidelines say physical distancing should be maintained where possible, Keith asked, “How do you manage that with kindergarteners? People must stay home when you’re sick, so what are the rules for that? There’s lots of HR complications here.”

She said the top two priorities for the school division is to keep people as safe as possible, and provide education as efficiently as they can.

Board chair Bruno Tuchscherer pointed out that there are bound to be parents who won’t want to send their children to school because of concerns around COVID-19.

“With education being mandatory, we have to figure out how we’re going to do deal with that,” he said, pointing out there are three levels of decision-makers they have to listen to, including the government (including the Chief Medical Health Officer), the response planning team (RPT) and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA).

“We want as many kids as we can safely put in the building in school,” said Keith. “We may have some parents say, ‘I don’t want my kids back in school until it’s all figured out.”

Trustee Rocky Sidloski pointed out that the basic restriction of two-metre distancing would cause a problem, as with some classrooms, they can’t physically put 30 students into one class based on that restriction.

“The reality is, there are no answers. At the end of the day, if a kid falls down and is hurt, a teacher is going to care for that child. We have this serious obligation to educate … but how do we support a family who has a vulnerable child, or a family with three children and just one computer?” said Keith, adding of the pandemic, “This is going to be around for a while, so we need to do this right.”

In a normal school year, the June meeting is the last board meeting until the fall when the new school year gets underway. Keith noted that the hope is no board meeting will be needed, but as things unfold in the coming weeks, she said a meeting may have to be called if there are decisions needing to be made by the board before school starts in September.

“We’ve been working with the principals and they’re up to the challenge, and we just want to make it happen,” she added.

There will be a virtual opening mass for the new school held online on Aug. 25, and the details and the links to access it will be sent out later this summer.