In ‘The Moment’ a plan was presented to return all elementary school children to class full time in a safe manner. Because the plan requires the use of the secondary schools for the intermediate grades, I suggested virtual learning for secondary students. However, there is also a means to provide face to face academic learning for grades eight to ten in an equally safe manner.
It is clear the 2020-21 school year will be a pandemic year and will have to be handled differently from any year to date. There is no doubt that it is beneficial to have students in a classroom setting for as much time as possible. The Ministry plan presented does not provide for social distancing in classrooms or in the hallways and creates enormous learning groups of 60 to 120. This is inconsistent with everything Dr. Henry has recommended to date and puts students, teachers and parents in jeopardy. Moreover, it makes timetabling a nightmare and has little chance of ensuring that the learning groups will not mix.
To create face to face learning with social distancing, we must be prepared to increase the space and time availability for in class learning. The model proposed here for grades 8-10 does just that. It ensures students acquire the outcomes of the core subjects so they are prepared for the following year. It puts ‘fewer faces in larger spaces’.
The secondary school space is required Monday to Friday (9:00am to 3:00pm) to provide space for intermediate students. That leaves the school space available on Saturday and Sunday. Grades 8 through 10 could have face to face, in school, teacher time on Saturday and Sunday by operating two shifts per day and covering the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Social Studies and Science. The Grade 8 to 10 school population would be divided in half and the class size would be 15. Classes would remain in the same classroom for their shift. Teachers would move. The first shift would operate from 8:00am to noon and the second shift from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. Before leaving for the day each student would be required to sanitize their desk space. Students would receive two hours of face to face instruction per week in each subject and be expected to do one hour, per subject, at home assigned work or research. This would give them the same hours that they would receive in a regular year but with a much smaller class size ensuring little likelihood of transmission particularly since all would be required to wear masks. Contact tracing, if required, would also be narrow.
Remembering that in this unique year, by focusing on academics we have freed many senior teachers who regularly teach elective subjects to teach these core classes. They should be qualified as every teacher has a second teaching specialty. The teachers involved would take two weekdays as their weekend days off. The other three workdays would be online, primarily with grade 11 and 12 students.
As mentioned in ‘The Moment’ special education students would be included in a different manner which may be to attend full time, five days per week in their own class when the intermediate students are also in the building.
The plan for grades 11 and 12 remains remote learning which is exactly what most post-secondary institutions are doing. This could be regarded as good preparation for their future learning.
To summarize, these plans provide full time, 5 days per week, in school learning for all K-7 students. Class sizes no greater than fifteen ensure social distancing and few teacher contacts. This plan has in school learning for all grade 8-10 students two days per week Again class sizes no larger than 15 ensure social distancing. The students would use only one classroom per day limiting their contacts with both students and staff. The grade 11 and 12 students would continue to learn remotely as they did in the spring using appropriate methodologies such as project-based learning.
These plans avoid the enormous learning groups in the Ministry plan. They enable small class sizes and social distancing at all levels. The teaching of electives such as choral or foods and nutrition which are potential serious virus spreaders is eliminated. For this year of the pandemic, it puts the responsibility for maintaining physical fitness on the student. Provision can be made for special education students although the full inclusion model is suspended for one year.
Most importantly, this plan recognizes that as Dr. Fauci states, children age 10 and older spread the virus just like an adult. By ensuring social distancing in small classes and no large ‘learning groups’ the possibility of virus spread becomes negligible. Parents and all staff can be less anxious and the teachers may get on board, which they have not done for good reason, with the Ministry plan.