2020-2021 Return to school

The best re-opening plans are detailed, layered, and go well beyond dates and sanitizing protocols

By Glen Herbert 

"It is now exactly eight weeks, eight short weeks until the first of September," Robert Mitchell, a PEI Liberal MLA, said in mid-July when pressing the provincial minister of education, Brad Trivers. "Minister, why are you waiting until late August to give parents and students the kind of certainty that they need, today?”

It’s a difficult question. As throughout the pandemic, safety sits on one hand, while livelihood sits on the other. Given that things may continue to change, it can be difficult to commit to any hard and fast answers around how to safely mount classes come September. Most provinces have noted that school will likely be part in-person, part remote. “For a lot of working parents, the model of going back to school two days a week just doesn’t work for them, and they’re looking at options," said Brian Lamb, Head of School for Joan of Arc Academy, in an interview with CTV News.

Of course, it’s not just about childcare. As has been widely reported, many parents within the public system have been underwhelmed with both the speed of the response and the quality of the remote learning programs. The fear, as we carry into the fall, is that virtual classrooms won’t rise to the level required, and that students may fall further behind, both in terms of course content and in their commitment to academic engagement.

The majority of schools we’ve been in touch with are enthusiastically dedicated to offering full-time, in-person classes, provincial policies allowing. The guiding principle for all, it goes without saying, is the health and safety of their students. But, as with the pivot to online delivery this past March, private schools are demonstrating their unique ability to be responsive, agile, and proactive. Ultimately, opening safely during a pandemic, and being able to stay open, requires planning carefully, adopting clear social distancing procedures, and gaining the trust of all members of the school community. Which is why schools are working hard now to get protocols and programs in place, and to grant families the certainty they need.

What you should expect

In the day to day, some of the things you can expect include: 

Given the uncertainty, including that around potential second or third waves, families should expect schools to outline a range of learning models, and to have implementation policies in place for each of them: 

You should expect, as demonstrated within the The York School's continuous learning plan, that the models will differ across instructional levels. Brampton Christian School and Ottawa Christian School, for example, both announced full reopening for K-6 and blended instruction for the later grades. 

What you should demand 

“Regardless of the model,” writes Teralee Brunn, principal at the Sunnybrook School, “we are committed to offer the full curriculum whether we are blended or remote or back to class." One of the common priorities, as stated well in Pickering College's plan is "providing continuity of educational opportunities for all of our students.” Similarly, Elmwood School has committed "to deliver an educational experience as close to 'normal' as possible" within provincial guidelines. They, and indeed many others, are clear that this isn't just about getting students in seats, but about offering "outstanding and engaging learning opportunities," as Woodland Christian outlined in a recent mailing to their parent population. 

Virginia Dawson of Ottawa Chrisitan notes, upon opening on September 8, “the students will have been away from school for 180 days. No doubt being able to come to school on a daily basis will be a relief to the students, the parents, and the teachers.” Schools, rightly, are looking at the bigger picture of what all this means. Janice Gladstone, principal at The Linden School, has been leading discussions with faculty and families about thanatology and grief literacy training, something that she strongly recommends for all educators. Teachers there are now trained in grief literacy so they can be extra aware of their students' emotional needs and expressions during this time. 

Ultimately, the best plans are those that recognise that this will be a year in each student’s life, and an important part of their learning journey. (In terms of detail within a reopening plan, St. Andrew’s College sets the bar.) School isn't just about the content, it's also about how we come to know ourselves as learners, how we develop our curiosities; it's about engaging with others, exploring ideas and sharing them. Opening plans that only speak to times and dates are only addressing one part of the picture, and the certainty that parents are craving goes well beyond distancing and sanitizing protocols, as important as those things are. Schools are right to include a commitment to quality, engaging, in-person instruction within their opening plans, and to demonstrate how they intend to deliver it. Parents and students, for their part, are right to demand it.

Delta West Academy

Calgary, Alberta

Amanda Dennis writes, “with our small class sizes, we are planning to operate near normal” offering either a full  in-house or, if necessary, a blended program. “All of our class sizes will remain between 10-12 students, which is below the recommended 15 cohort size per class and will allow DWA to operate with a guaranteed safe, in-person classroom environment every day.” While some adjustments will be made, such as staggering start times, all protocols and decisions were informed by a survey that was distributed to the DWA parent population in June.

Ashwood Glen

Burlington, Ontario

Ashwood Glen is currently running summer camps for children ages 18months to 6 years of age, and were commended by the Halton Public Health inspector for their thorough and effective implementation of the Health and Safety policies and procedures related to the prevention of a COVID-19 outbreak. Writes Marianne Yong-Macdonald, Head of Schoool, "We are in a good place to guarantee full time in-person sessions each regular school day for our student population, especially since we are restricting our class sizes to 5 – 7 students to ensure that social distancing within each cohort can be maintained. In the event that school closures are mandated by the authorities, we are well-prepared to offer robust synchronous and asynchronous learning sessions to continue to deliver the Ashwood Glen Learning Program without interruptions."

Star Academy

Mississauga, Ontario

Star Academy (K to 8) is dedicated to small class sizes a full in-school program, creating a regular routine and structure for our families. While the weather permits, they play to hold more outdoor classes for science and environmental education, daily physical education, art, drama and dance, and other subjects as appropriate.

Upper Canada College

Toronto, Ontario

UCC is looking forward to welcoming students back to campus this fall. With the health and safety of the community as the top priority, preparations are aligned with public health guidelines and the Ministry of Education’s Approach to Reopening Schools. Limiting density on campus is a critical component of UCC's plan, including requiring physical distancing, limiting class sizes to 15 students, and ensuring boarding students have single-room accommodations. Administraion has developed flexibility to implement a modified schedule and remote learning to ensure continuity of learning as required. "We will continue to provide transformational learning experiences that fulfill our vision and mission to foster the development of head, heart and humanity and inspire boys to be their best selves." For protocols and updates, click here 

Ottawa Christian

Ottawa, Ontario

Ottawa Christian School will be open full time for all students in the fall within existing guidelines, classroom caps, and protocols, opening on September 8. The OCS Leadership Team of Mr. Paul Triemstra, Mrs. Pauline Naftel, and Mr. Laurence Stassen, continues to make detailed plans as to how to open the school safely in a way that meets all the guidelines laid out by the province. For full details, click here.  

Braemar House School

Brantford, Ontario

Writes Director Kristin Pass, “at Braemar House School we have been busy cleaning, organizing, and updating our policies/practices. We are in good shape and headed in the right direction for the fall. Our plan is to reopen for in school learning and we are in good shape to operate as normally as possible with our numbers. With our small class sizes, the new normal has always been our normal. We will keep our class sizes at the recommended 15, and operate daily. We have reached out to our local health unit, and they feel our plans are thorough, and will give us specific feedback shortly. Measures we are taking include physical distancing, hand hygiene, small class sizes and cohorting classes, cleaning and sanitation, and ensuring everyone comes to school healthy. We are also investigating medical-grade air purifiers for each classroom.” 

OAT Ontario Academy of Technology

Toronto, Ontario

There are lots of interesting innovations being made, and at OAT, the space will be divided up into green, yellow and orange zones to facilitate physical distancing. With that and other protocols, including classroom caps, OAT will offer a full, in-house program. 

Nancy Campbell Academy

Stratford, Ontario

Vice Principal Teresa Flanagan writes that “necessity is the mother of invention … but so too is dedication to excellence, and to students. Continuous improvement is a principle our Board, administration and teachers are proponents of.” The Board of Directors made a decision that this fall will be online only, with an expectation of returning to full, in-house instruction in January 2021. With that decision came a significant investment in virtual reality technology. Teachers will be able to utilize several VR classrooms and school spaces to ensure that the elements of community will not be lost. “We are EXCITED about our online only platform for this fall - we are welcoming new students and are looking forward to additional innovation, adjustments and feedback from students.” 

Robert Land Academy

Wellandport, Ontario

“RLA is ready to welcome students for September,” writes Sarah Whitaker. The daily schedule will include two periods for each meal time to allow for social distancing in the mess hall and classes will be scheduled to limit students to 15 per classroom and have teachers rotate classroom to classroom, rather than the students, to limit the number of people in hallways. 

Campus buildings will continue to be cleaned on an increased schedule and will be sanitized regularly with an electrostatic sprayer to ensure all student areas and high-touch surfaces are clean and sanitized. Hand sanitizing stations are located throughout the campus, and hand sanitizing and the wiping down of high touch surfaces has become part of the daily schedule.

All students will be required to provide a negative COVID 19 test upon entry to the school, and students coming from outside of Canada will be asked to quarantine for 14 days before arriving on campus, per government of Canada regulations. All staff who vacation will also need a negative test result before returning to work. Staff will have their temperature taken upon arrival for every shift, teachers will wear face shields while teaching, and all staff will wear face masks when in close contact with students.

A detailed response to the pandemic is available at www.rla.ca

Great Lakes Christian High School

Beamsville, Ontario

The plan, writes Ingrid Kielstra, is to proceed with a hybrid model for classes that have students with more than 15 students in the classroom. This means half the class will attend through their laptops (synchronously) and the other half will be in the classroom. Students will attend class in their cohort on Mon/Wed/Friday and will swap out with the other cohort on alternate days. “Our teachers are working on good lesson and course design; we are working on flexibility and multiple plans, developing the care piece in terms of PPE for the dorm/ school and in terms of making sure our students are well supported spiritually, academically, and emotionally.” Kielstra righty notes the need to adapt. “We recognize that everyone would love to have a hard fast answer: “What will September look like?” Our promise is to deliver on flexibility, care, and quality education within identified safe boundaries.

Pickering College

Newmarket, Ontario

“Over the past month,” writes Peter Sturrup, “we have been working hard to develop a plan for the return to school in an environment that is as safe as possible for our students and staff.” The intention is for all classes to begin in person in September for all students. “This also means that it is our intention to open boarding to all students who can attend, and that boarding will remain open for all long weekends and school holidays, including Christmas Break and March Break.” Detailed protocols are available here.

Magnificent Minds

North York, Ontario

Magnificent Minds will open maintaining small classes of no more than 8 students and 2 teachers. The intention is to also move ahead with COVID screening before entry, temperature checks for staff and students and less rotation between staff (i.e. staying with homeroom teachers). Hand washing routines and sanitation will be worked into various periods throughout the day in addition to before and after school cleaning. 

King’s College School

Caledon, Ontario

Full-time, in person, 5 days a week schooling from 8:15AM to 5:00PM will occur this fall at King’s (unless the province mandates the closure of schools), as well as full-time synchronous virtual schooling and a 'choose your-own-access' model of being at school in person some days and joining the classes from home on others. Writes Principal Barbara Lord, “we are looking forward to seeing everyone - whether in person or virtually!"

Trinity College School

Port Hope, Ontario

Plans are detailed, with regular updates sent weekly to the parent and student population. The plan is to begin September offering a full in-house program both for day and boarding students. Rightly, the school’s intentions, which can be accessed here, include arrival dates allowing for requisite quarantine periods for any students arriving from out of country.

Cedar Ridge High School

Kanata, Ontario

John Sokolowski writes that “we are continuing to modify and improve our opening plans for September based on guidance from the Ministry of Education and Public Health.” Both the administration and the Board of Directors are committed to having as much of the school open as possible while ensuring the environment is as safe as possible, including provisions for hand washing, personal protective equipment and social distancing. Those plans include additional classrooms so that all students can learn in groups of 15 students or less. “We are confident that all high school learners will continue to receive high quality personalized daily instruction and receive all necessary credits for graduation and university applications.” Sokolowski notes that in the event that schools are required to close again, staff are ready to move to the existing remote learning platform, one based around synchronous learning and virtual classrooms.

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