Returning to School – September 2020

~ Updated October 13, 2020

On July 21, 2020 the Minister of Education announced that schools will be resuming under the conditions of Scenario 1; In-school classes resume (near normal with health measures)”.  

The Pembina Hills School Division has aligned practices with the Government of Alberta’s GUIDANCE FOR SCHOOL RE-ENTRY – SCENARIO 1 and other guidance specific to activities associated with life in school.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we operationalize health measures in our schools. Like the province we seek to:

  1. Prevent the spread of illness
  2. Respond quickly and efficiently if needed
  3. Communicate effectively

Our schools’ re-entry plans balance the measures needed to control virus spread and our students’ need for healthy interactions. All plans follow the guidance provided by the government. Getting the right balance will probably need some fine-tuning.

Our strategies focus on Procedures, Habits and Communication, with student and staff safety at the centre.

Examples of Procedures include: cleaning, disinfecting, managing the movement of students, grouping students, seating plans and so on.

  • We rely on parents, staff and students to follow the new procedures

Examples of Habits include: personal hygiene, physical distancing, and respect for other peoples’ health.

  • We rely on parents, staff and students to learn new habits
  • The daily health check expected of every parent, student and staff member is the most critical new habit.  

Communication must be two-way.

  • The division and our schools commit to communicating information efficiently.  
  • We ask parents to play their part by keeping schools informed about student absences.

A summary of the strategies follows.  The specifics about how a school will follow through will be unique from school to school.

Daily Health Check

Daily Screening for Illness – ALL Students, Parents and Staff

  • All parents will be expected to use the  Daily Health Check each day prior to sending their children to school. Do not send your child to school if they are sick.    
  • Please contact the school to inform them of any absences. 
  • All Pembina Hills staff must use the Daily Health Check as well. 
  • Anyone who is sick will not be allowed at school.  
  • It is important for us to know if your children have pre-existing conditions such as allergies that are similar to the symptoms of COVID-19. 
    • We consider this baseline information. 
    • If baseline conditions were to change, or appear without the usual triggers, the students should remain at home until they are symptom free, and have a negative test result for COVID-19. 
  • Be prepared to provide information to the school regarding your children’s health.

Temporary Learning from Home 

If students must remain at home because they show COVID-19 symptoms, or if they are sick for other reasons, schools will provide work to keep the students abreast of what is being taught in class, just like we did before the pandemic.

When can my child return to school?

If your child has symptoms, they must stay home.

Use this guide to know when it’s safe for your child to return to school: Stay At Home Guide

What do we do if someone else in my child’s class or family has symptoms? Do I need to keep my child home too?

The following principles apply to most scenarios:

  • The guidance from the Government has given schools the authority to disallow any symptomatic staff, students, parents or visitors from entering the school.
  • Schools do not have the authority to tell asymptomatic (no symptoms) staff or students to isolate, even if they were part of a cohort where someone else had symptoms.
  • The authority to impose isolation requirements for asymptomatic people belongs to Alberta Health Services.   They will contact individuals and families who need to isolate.
Social - Emotional Health and Mental Well-Being
  • Our teachers and support staff help your children learn and grow together. 
  • When students require support for their mental well-being, our staff will guide students to support services within the school or division. 
  • We commit to working together with you to help students manage the emotions and stresses caused by this and other situations. 
  • Please call if you have concerns about your children’s mental well-being. 
School Cleaning
  • The Pembina Hills Plant and Operations Facilities department has increased cleaning of all school facilities. 
  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting of high touch areas and equipment inside and outside of classrooms, in washrooms and in all auxiliary spaces will continue.
Hygiene Etiquette: Handwashing, Coughing and Sneezing
  • Students will be asked to wash their hands frequently.  
  • Washing hands often with soap and water is expected, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before and after eating or preparing food.  
  • Staff and students who need to cough or sneeze will use their elbow or a tissue, and then throw out the tissue if used and wash their hands afterwards.
  • Students are to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. 
Student Belongings and School Supplies
  • Parents and students need to get used to a “No Sharing” policy. 
  • Your teachers will provide students with instructions as to how student belongings (back-packs, jackets, etc.) will be stored.
Lunches, Snacks and Food Services
  • Please provide your children with lunches that minimize the use of communal microwaves. 
  • Again, a “No Sharing” policy will be expected. 
  • Schools with food services will follow Alberta government guidance for food services.
    • Students will learn new processes and habits related to food services.
The Cohort strategy
  • One health measure that helps in this situation is cohorting. 
    • A cohort is basically a group with something in common. 
    • In this case, the cohort is the group of students (and staff) with whom your child will interact each day. 
  • The cohort strategy is useful in two ways:
  1. Cohorting is used to support physical distancing to reduce spread. Our goal is to reasonably limit the size (number of people) in a group, and the degree of interaction between groups.
  2. Cohorting helps make contact tracing more efficient, if required. An accurate record of the people in a cohort will be very helpful if we need to support Alberta Health with contact tracing. Seating plans on the bus and in the classrooms, and various restrictions to movement in common areas are related to the cohorting health measure.  
  • Typically a cohort in school will be a class. Some schools will require students to be in multiple cohorts because of programming needs.
  • We will be expecting compliance from students.  
  • Anything parents and guardians can do to help children understand the reasons for these ‘rules’ will help the school remain as safe as possible. 
Community Use of Schools after hours

Because of the requirements for extensive additional cleaning of surfaces, we will not continue previous community use agreements, until further notice.

Physical Distancing during Drop-off and Pick-up, Being outside the School, Entering the School
  • One of the main strategies of preventing the spread is limiting contact between people.  
  • Parents who chose to drop-off their children are encouraged do so; however, we ask that you remain in your vehicles.
  • There may be increased traffic in drop off and pick up lanes. Please follow the signs and be patient so everyone remains safe in the parking lots and drop off areas.
  • All visitors and parents who enter the school must check in at the office. Everyone is expected to self-screen before entering.
  • All visitors to the school must wear a mask (except those under 8 years old).
Physical Distancing in the Hallways
  • Like many businesses and retail stores, the floors in our schools have been marked to show the direction of traffic flow. 
  • Students (grades 4-12) and staff must wear masks.
Physical Distancing during Recesses, Lunch Breaks and Transitions
  • The staff at each of our schools have been making plans to limit physical distance during the many transitions that occur during the school day. 
  • Specific plans will vary from group to group depending on the need for students to move from place to place.
  • Students in grades that have recess will be allowed to play outside. 
  • Where possible, in-class cohorts will remain during recess and breaks.
Physical Distancing in the Classroom
  • Since it is often impossible to ensure a 2 metre distance in our classrooms without reducing the number of students, the furniture has been rearranged as best as possible. 
  • Seating plans will be common in every class.
Physical Distancing when Face-to-Face Interactions are Necessary
  • Division staff who work with our students will use portable physical barriers and or face masks when they need to work closely with students. 
  • They will sanitize and disinfect objects that need to be handled by more than one student.
Facemasks - Updated August 4th

As indicated in the August 4th news article Alberta announces mask use in schools:

Education Minister LaGrange announced that masks will be required when students and staff return to school this fall.

  • All teachers and staff will be required to wear masks in settings where two metres of physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Students from Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks in all public spaces and can choose to wear them while seated in class.
  • Masks will be optional for younger students in Kindergarten through Grade 3.
    • If a child begins to show symptoms during the school day, they will be provided with a facemask while they are in the sick room waiting for their parents to pick them up.

Masks are not required when:

  • Persons are seated at a desk or table within a classroom or place where instruction is taking place and where the desks, tables and chairs are arranged in a manner to prevent persons who are seated from facing each other, and to allow the greatest possible distance between seated persons
  • Persons are consuming food or drink in designated areas
  • Persons are engaged in physical exercise
  • Persons are unable to place, use or remove a non-medical mask without assistance
  • Persons are unable to wear a non-medical mask due to a mental or physical concern or limitation
If a Child Becomes Ill During the School Day
  • If children begin to show symptoms that are not related to pre-existing conditions,
    • The school will contact parents/guardians immediately
    • The student will be provided with a mask and isolated in our sick room until you pick them up
  • Parents/guardians must be able to pick-up their children if they become symptomatic
  • We will work closely with you should this need arise. 
Communications
  • We will continue to post news and updates on the division website: https://www.pembinahills.ca/ 
    • under the tab Schools and Programs →  COVID-19 Information
  • Subscribe to news updates at https://www.pembinahills.ca/subscribe/
  • Follow us on the Pembina Hills Facebook page 
  • This fall, Pembina Hills rolled out the SchoolMessenger application. 
    • SchoolMessenger is a means by which we can reach out directly to parents of a class group, a school group or the entire division. 
    • In addition to voice messages and email, parents can Opt-In to receive text messages from their school or the division – simply text Y or YES to 978338. If you sign up for text messaging, please ensure your child’s school has your cell phone number on file.
Transportation (Bussing)

Parents / guardians are encouraged to drive children to school when possible to decrease the number of students on the busses. We anticipate increased traffic volume before and after school.  Please follow the traffic flow instructions for curb-side drop-off and pick up.

Note: Drivers will make contact with families soon after August 26 with information relevant to families on their routes.  

Every-day Health and Safety Measures

  • Bus drivers and students will complete the Daily Health Check  everyday to ensure they do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Stay home when ill.
  • Ensure hands are cleaned before getting on the school bus.
  • Cough or sneeze into a Kleenex or your elbow (discard the Kleenex, don’t reuse it).
  • Bus drivers will be required to wear masks. Drivers will also be provided with face shields to use at their discretion ONLY during loading and unloading, NOT to be worn while driving.
  • Grade 4 through 12 students will be required to wear a mask on buses. Mask use for kindergarten to Grade 3 students will continue to be optional.
  • It is important that students continue to abide by the rules for riding the bus.
  • Buses will be diligently disinfected after each run and vehicle cleaning logs will be kept.

If a bus driver is ill:

  • A bus driver must not drive a school bus if they have any symptoms.
  • We will make every attempt to find a replacement driver.
  • There is a chance that a spare driver will not be in place in time for either a morning or afternoon run.
  • Families must be prepared to make alternate arrangements if we cannot get a replacement in time.

Physical Distancing:

  • Students must not be in the pick-up area or enter the bus if they have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Students will be assigned seats and a record will be kept to assist Alberta Health Services (AHS) with contact tracing if needed.
  • Schools will develop procedures for student loading, unloading and transfers that support physical distancing of 2 metres between all children (except household members), when possible and will include:
    • Students will load onto buses from the back seats to the front of the bus.
    • Students will depart from the bus from the front seats to the back of the bus.
    • Where possible, the number of students will be limited per bench unless they are from the same household.
    • Students from the same household will share seats unless there is sufficient room on the bus or there is an approved exception.
    • Expect some delays at the beginning of this process as everyone
Learning from Home

Temporary Learning from Home 

If students must remain at home because they show COVID-19 symptoms, or if they are sick for other reasons, schools will provide work to keep the students abreast of what is being taught in class, just like we did before the pandemic.

Full time Learning from Home

  • If you are thinking about keeping your children at home and continuing with distance learning, we will support your children’s education through Pembina Hill’s distance learning school: Vista Virtual School (VVS)
  • Vista Virtual School has provided a full curriculum to students at a distance since 1996 with results that exceed provincial averages (on diploma exams).
  • Through VVS your child can get the full program of studies, just like they would at a traditional school.
Extracurricular Sports in PHSD

The October 8th update to the Guidance for School Re-entry states the following:

  • It is recommended that individuals limit the number of cohorts/mini-leagues they belong to.
  • Individual schools/school boards or organizations may have policies that set limits on the number of extracurricular activity cohorts that participants belong to.

The GUIDANCE FOR SPORT, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND RECREATION – STAGE 2 states:

  • If an individual or team member wishes to change cohorts/mini-leagues, they should not participate in a new cohort activity for 14 days.
  • If a mini-league comes to completion during Stage 2, a new mini-league comprised of new cohort teams may be formed, provided that there is a 14-day period between completion of play in the old mini-league and the beginning of the new mini-league.

Given the number of cohorts to which students must belong for purposes of educational programming, and in the interest of the safety of participants and the other staff and students in these cohorts, and because the Guidance describes a 14 day break between different cohort activities, PHSD will permit participation in one extracurricular activity at a time, school or otherwise.