Students will return to Nicomekl Elementary and other Langley schools starting Sept. 10. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Back to school plan expected today in Langley

Details of how the district will handle education during COVID-19 are to be released

The Langley School District’s plan for a local return to classes is expected to be released today, following approvals by the provincial Ministry of Education.

Aug. 21 was the deadline for districts around B.C. to submit plans to the ministry, and today (Wednesday) is the deadline to present those plans to the public.

Schools are to group students, teachers, and support staff into “learning groups,” or cohorts, which will keep largely separate from one another, with staggered school arrival and departure times, and use of shared school spaces.

The learning groups are to be set at a maximum of 60 people for elementary school and 120 people for secondary schools.

While Langley will be following those guidlines, many learning groups will be smaller than that, district spokesperson Joanne Abshire said last week, after the district released a preview of some of the items in its plan.

“A lot of them are going to be smaller,” she said. “Some cohorts are as small as 43 students.”

Afternoon classes at secondary schools, which will alternate between in-class and online education days, could see classes as small as 15 students, Abshire said.

Abshire also noted that administrators at schools are working on arrivals and departures, which are expected to be staggered to keep cohorts separate.

Abshire said that all students eligible for bus services will continue to receive transportation.

High school students with half-day instruction will have buses to take them home around noon, as well.

Elementary and middle school principals are working together to make sure the schedules line up for families that have to drop children off at two schools, Abshire said.

In developing the plan, the Langley School District said they aim to follow the provincial health and safety guidelines, maximize in-class instruction, keep students in their learning groups, limit the movement of students on-site, and manage traffic flow on-site.

More detailed information will be released on Wednesday, Aug. 26. The district’s plans are still subject to provincial approval.

Site-specific plans for individual schools will be released between Aug. 26 and Sept. 4.

Students return Sept. 10 and 11 to learn safety protocols, and in-class education starts on Sept. 14.

Parents in Langley have had varied responses to the return to school plan, according to Alicia Rempel, the president of the Langley District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).

A number of those parents aren’t keen on sending their children back to school right now.

“DPAC has heard from a number of parents who are looking for the Ministry of Education to approve a hybrid plan or a temporary transition back option for students,” Rempel told the Langley Advance Times.

She said parents know the district has to operate within parameters set by the Ministry of Education.

“We hope they hear that parents want choices for their families,” Rempel said. “Every family has a unique situation and families should not have to choose between their health and their child’s education. And districts need to be funded to make this happen.”

Some districts have announced pilot programs in which some students will have smaller classes or fewer days in class, with some at-home distance learning.

Meanwhile, the Surrey Teachers Association called for class sizes to be slashed in half to prevent coronavirus infections.

READ MORE: Teachers’ association wants Surrey school district to have classrooms at 50% capacity

“It’s going to be far worse if we have a big outbreak and then we have to shut things down if we move too quickly,” said Matt Westphal, the Surrey Teachers Association president.

The Langley Teachers Association, contacted before the Langley plan was released, had not issued a formal statement yet.

Just a day before the local plans were set to be announced, the federal government announced a cash infusion to schools across the country.

A fund of up to $2 billion in a new Safe Return to Class fund was announced Tuesday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau also announced a separate $112M for schools in First Nations communities.

It’s unknown what impact the funding might have on plans in B.C. or locally in Langley.

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