What will New West back-to-school look like in September?

The quick answer is, no one knows yet - but the district is taking a number of possibilities into account and seeking parent input as it plans for the fall

What will New Westminster schools look like in September?

School district superintendent Karim Hachlaf acknowledged that’s the “burning question” on the minds of everyone involved with New West schools right now – and the answer is, there is no answer yet.

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Hachlaf told school trustees at their June 23 meeting, held online via Webex, that the district is taking many possibilities into account as it works on its plans for September.

As part of those plans, the district has reached out to parents and students with a survey asking for their input about how remote and hybrid instruction worked for them in June. The survey is open until Monday, June 29.

“We wanted to know what had worked, what we can improve on from the past few months, with the assumption that we could potentially return in still a hybrid mode with face-to-face and remote instruction,” he said. “We wanted to know what other elements we should consider, and how safe our parents and students felt, and supported, while making these various transitions.”

A similar survey has been sent out to staff members as well.

Hachlaf said the district will consider the survey responses as it shapes its plans for September in the face of the evolving COVID-19 situation.

“We’ve commented that ‘We’re in this together’ through this whole process, and we wanted that feedback as part of our September planning,” he said.

Hachlaf noted the province will be informing school districts in mid-August what stage schools will be at in September. The month of June has been spent in what the Ministry of Education has labelled Stage 3, in which families were offered an optional return to part-time in-class instruction.

At Stage 2, if the province opts to move there, elementary school students would be in class full-time and secondary school students (grades 8 to 12) part-time.

Stage 1 would mean a return to regular, full-time, in-class schooling for all levels.

Hachlaf said the district is reviewing its school schedules to ensure it will be able to transition between stages as seamlessly as possible, as need arises.

“We have the whole year to consider now, not just the month of June, and it is very realistic that we may need to move in between stages throughout the school year,” he said. “We want to make that in a way that reduces the impact on instruction and definitely considers the schedule of our parents as well.”

For instance, Hachlaf noted, for current Stage 3 schedules, the district has had elementary students return part-time five days a week. Looking ahead to September, he said, the district is considering a move to full days on a part-time schedule, to better accommodate parents’ work schedules.

The school district is also working on ensuring it can align with health and safety guidelines while moving back to mandatory, rather than optional, in-class instruction.

“We really need to look at the whole school year now and minimize the disruptive impact of staying at home and provide that combination of hybrid and hopefully, over the course of the year, land on Stage 1,” he said. “Those are the conversations we are diving right into. … Input from our parents, our students, our staff is critical to navigate that work.”

B.C. Ministry of Education, stages, COVID-19
This chart shows the five stages as laid out by the B.C. Ministry of Education. The end of the 2019/20 school year took place in Stage 3; it's not yet known what stage schools will be at in September. - B.C. Ministry of Education graphic

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