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Horizon School Division
Creating a better world, one student at a time.
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September 8, 2020 - a message from Kevin C. Garinger, Director of Education

September 08, 2020


Welcome back Horizon School Division! Like you, I am thrilled to have most of our students join us once again after nearly 6 months away from our classrooms. As Horizon staff,  you have been working extremely hard to get our buildings and classrooms ready for the safe return of our youngest team members. As our world continues to evolve and our knowledge and information surrounding COVID-19 continues to expand, It has been my hope that you have been kept informed throughout the planning. We have been engaged in learning opportunities with our Education colleagues across the province and beyond and have been closely linked to our partners in Health and other sectors to ensure we are taking the necessary precautions and have the relevant information to guide our practices. We are ready to support our students, first and foremost in their health and safety, and then with their learning.

We have had a very busy summer, to say the least. Since the return of our school staff at the end of August, we have been steadily developing and adjusting our return plans and implementing the necessary changes to support our work this fall. As we have shared, you can find our Re-Entering Horizon Plan on horizonsd.ca, and school plans on each school website. These documents are being adjusted and updated on a regular basis to reflect the most current information and recommendations, and while we continue to try and update you as these changes occur, it remains advisable to review these documents regularly to make sure you’re familiar with the most current guidelines.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Professional development continues to be important during this challenging time created by the pandemic. We have held a number of in-person sessions – when social distancing can be maintained – as well as virtual collaborative learning days for staff groups such as secretaries, caretakers, and bus drivers to support their work and address the new practices for the coming year. This past week, we were proud to offer a virtual professional development session with our partners in Health, to provide COVID-19 information and demonstrate proper use of personal protective equipment and to address questions that teachers and support staff have. Continue to take your questions to your supervisors so we can continue to ensure they are answered in a timely fashion. I say timely but I know many things are far from timely in this time of crisis. I certainly appreciate the efforts and understanding that each of you has reciprocated as you have been challenged with shifting direction and resulting adjustments that impact your work.

VIDEO STREAMING CLASSROOMS TO SUPPORT LEARNING FROM HOME (LFH)

One such adjustment I have shared with principals only just this morning surrounds the Live Video Streaming of our classrooms to children who are Learning From Home. At this time and until further notice, the practice of "Live Streaming" into our classrooms, outside of our current synchronous programming provided through our Online School, is prohibited. I understand that this practice, one of which has been ongoing for years by teachers who teach synchronously in our online school, has created some anxiety for the STF and possibly some of our teachers. This most certainly was never the intent. 

I feel that the excellent planning for contingency that teachers did, as well as our work in supplemental learning, has prepared everyone for that level of support. I also feel that we are well-positioned to make this work in an effective manner due to having, what I am proud to say is the second-lowest PTR in all of Saskatchewan. However, I also do not want added anxiety at this critical time when children are needing our collective calm. Therefore, I have placed the practice on hold indefinitely and until such time as we are required by Health to engage in some similar practice. I know you join with me in hopes that that time never comes.

RATIONALE FOR CONNECTING LFH STUDENTS TO THE “REGULAR CLASSROOM”

As of Tuesday, September 8, 2020, every student in Horizon will have been away from their regular school for exactly 166 days. As a trauma-informed school division, it is incumbent upon us to welcome all children back to our classrooms, regardless of whether they are at school or at home, in a safe and caring (trauma-informed) manner. As stated in the Trauma-Informed Practices document found on the Alberta government website, “Social-emotional learning opportunities are critical to students healing as well as to their learning. Providing supportive and compassionate learning environments that are trauma-informed have shown to provide positive impacts on the emotional well-being of students and help them succeed in academics and social life.

The "regular classroom" is defined as that environment in which the student either has or would have attended if it were not for the COVID-19 pandemic. I recognize there are aspects of allowing learning from home students into a regular classroom that must be controlled and we certainly have a procedure that is aligned to this practice. I also feel that the Human Right to provide an opportunity to the classroom through a modified process should exist for all children, regardless of their inherent right for accommodation. Simply put, our children need you. They need a friendly face and peers they know. When that is stripped away because of a pandemic, we are called upon to find ways to protect their rights and support their mental health needs while ensuring the privacy of staff and other children. In the executive summary of the Guidelines for Re-Entering School, Kevin Cameron states, “With proper multidisciplinary collaboration and the inclusion of good assessment of the dynamics between family, school and the community, teams can plan interventions that can result in more lasting gains”. Our goal of having students linked to their regular classroom was one such intervention that supports an eventual return to school for all children and a lasting impact on the cognitive and social health of the learning from home children…and their peers.

OUR PLANNING DEFINED

Our planning has led to having grades K to 9 children, who are required to learn from home, supported remotely in their curricular outcomes by Learning From Home teachers (assigned to each grade or grades). In the original plan, they who would have ensured opportunities for the LFH children to connect to their regular classroom on a daily but sporadic basis. This is likely to happen but not through a Live Stream, at this time. The understanding was that the team of adults and children in the regular classroom are known to the child required to be at home and can offer social support that could help alleviate concerns related to prolonged absence from school for the child. The isolation from their peers and adults who, under normal circumstances would be in their lives is known to be a significant cause of trauma in our youth resulting from COVID-19. Due to similar factors but with the added element of “independence” that is developed in our older children, the grades 7 to 9 students were to be supported in a similar way but have an even more significant connection to their regular classrooms. The students would have been required to attend to their “regular classroom teacher” for both English and mathematics, and would have a Learning From Home teacher assigned to them for the remainder of the day for other subjects such as social studies and science. As has been shared, the plan now identifies the Learning From Home teachers in grades K to 9 as the sole support for all outcomes across all curriculum and will be solely responsible for all students assigned to them who need to learn from home.

On that note, we have established an incredible Online School team to support LFH. These teachers will begin contacting their parents following the PD session Tuesday morning. 

MASKS IN CLASSROOMS

As staff, you have been wearing masks in the workplace for a number of weeks when physical distancing of 2 metres cannot be maintained. We will continue to model this important preventative practice for our grades 4 to 12 students for as long as our mask mandate is required.  This, along with hand hygiene, social distancing, and a number of other tools in our toolbelt will keep our schools safe, and keep our students in the classroom. I did share the following with principals regarding masking that I think you will find useful.

First of all, physical distancing is not required in grades Pre-K to 3 inclusive. Instead, we are trying to limit physical contact. In grades 4-8, we have some limited flexibility but it is quite strict right now as well as in grades 9-12. We need to manage physical distancing as best as we can but here are a couple of things to keep in mind. I know some have already considered these or other potential options. I think this will change in a week or two based on additional PPE or being able to relax restrictions:

1. You mask every second student in a row (forward-facing). You may even provide the unmasked student with a face shield. That way each student can be unmasked for portions of their day. If students talk relatively close to one another or to their teacher, which should be limited, both are required to wear masks. 

2. Intermittently allow certain students to take their mask off for short periods of time, especially those who simply need a break from them. Don’t make it a regular practice of keeping them off but if a few students take them off for a short period of time here and there to get a break and you alternate this, we are still following the plan as best we can. 

Some aspects of mask-wearing may change as early as the end of this week but I’m still waiting for direction from our MHO. In the meantime and because we are starting more strict, I see these as plausible solutions if masking all day is problematic. 

Where you have children (or families) with health needs in the classroom, try and ensure they are 2m apart from their classmates. You shouldn’t have any more than a couple of children in each class so work around them first and then manage the others. They should sit close to a wall and perhaps in the back or very front of the classroom. I would also suggest that staggered breaks, that are mandatory, can happen outside. As long as you, as a staff member, ensure students are physically distanced, our kids would certainly not need masks. 


Maintain as much physical distance as possible and then mask and unmask as you feel is appropriate under our guidelines contained in our plan. The other major things you need to very much ensure: 

1. Limit the movement of students;

2. Maintain the practice of cohorting;

3. Know who your kids are sitting beside at all times;

4. Know where kids and staff are each second of the day. 

I thank each of you in advance for your patience and cooperation with this critical safety measure.

PRIORITY TESTING

A couple of other notes of interest for each of you. This is a reminder that school division employees have been given priority for COVID-19 testing in Saskatchewan and that we continue to work with Health to expedite testing opportunities for staff and students who show symptoms associated with COVID-19. Keeping our students, staff, and communities safe will require a joint effort from each of us, and quick access to testing is a huge piece in that puzzle. We will continue to encourage students and staff to stay home when feeling ill and to contact 811 or your family doctor.

AND FINALLY…

2020-2021 is going to be a school year we will all remember. There have and will continue to be challenges, and we will face adversity, but we will succeed. I believe in our students, our families, our Board, and of course, in each of you, the staff of Horizon. You have been part of the school plans and have worked diligently on procedures for your classroom that will ultimately keep your school a safe and caring environment. You have likely not thought of everything and your plans may need to change...so adjust as necessary. I have every faith in who you are as a professional and that you will keep our kids safe and cared for…and only then, will provide highly effective instruction and support. At times like these, we need to practice “Maslow before Bloom”. Like me, you are going to be so happy to have students with us again, most of whom will be in our classrooms. Each and every one of our children (and us for that matter) will learn a great deal more this year than ever before. And we will do it together because our strength is found in working as a team…it leads to our collective efficacy.

Have a great first week of school, everyone. Keep asking your questions. And remember, as we are reminded, the first principle of crisis response is to practice calm. So, as the saying goes, "Keep calm and carry on". Our kids are waiting.

Kevin

Kevin C. Garinger  B.Ed., M.A.Ed.
Director of Education/CEO
Horizon School Division No. 205