Students across the South Okanagan returned to school last week after months of learning from home due to COVID-19. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

First day back: School District 53 adjusting to life amid COVID-19

Around half of the district’s students have returned class, while some continue to learn from home

School is back in session, for some.

School District 53 (SD53) welcomed students back to school last week after months of remote learning due to COVID-19.

Despite classes being back in session, school looks a little different than it did prior to the pandemic.

Approximately 50 per cent of students in SD53 have returned to class, with the remainder continuing to learn from home.

The school district has put students into two groups, some divided alphabetically, to allow for less students to be in the classroom at a time. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 attend school on alternating days.

Meanwhile, Grade 6 and 7 students are attending school one day a week, also in two alternating groups, with the remainder of learning done remotely.

Most secondary school students are also attending school one day a week, while some are attending more often as they work to finish necessary coursework.

While most groupings in SD53 were made alphabetically, addresses also played a part as the district considered bus routes when grouping the students.

Last week, the Penticton Western News talked with students on their first day back to school.

Penticton Grade 5 student, Aleksander Filipovic, is excited to be back in school, despite the fact he can no longer sleep in. Thursday, June 4 was his first day back.

Students have been separated into learning on different days in order to promote social distancing.

“Meeting my friends again,” he said, when asked the best part about returning to school.

In SD53, those who prefer to keep their kids at home are being supported with one day a week of online learning, on Fridays for most elementary schools in the district and Wednesdays for Osoyoos Elementary. Those who returned to school were greeted with signs and sanitizing stations with information about how to stay safe.

The school district has an “exposure control plan” on their website that details what protocols the district has put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

Physically distanced desks fill the classrooms. Hands are washed immediately, as well as before eating and after sneezing. Coat racks and water fountains are closed, and students have been split into groups to reduce the number of students in the classroom at one time.

Social distancing, one principal explained, is not always possible in an elementary school. Playgrounds, although reopened, are not continually cleaned, but teachers are ensuring students wash their hands before they go outside, and when they come back in.

As long as they remain under the umbrella of expectations set out by WorkSafeBC and provincial health officials, schools have been given flexibility to adjust some elements of the return-to-school framework, like how students are grouped.

This year, report cards and graduation will also look different. Graduates can expect their commencement ceremonies to take place in smaller groups, with events being live streamed for families and the community to view. All speeches will be previously recorded and played during the ceremony to limit the number of people in attendance to 50.

At Similkameen Elementary Secondary School in Keremeos, SD53 superintendent, Beverly Young said graduates will be celebrating all together, with social distancing in place, live streamed for family and community. Speeches will be prerecorded.

Young said students and staff are slowly adjusting to the new normal.

“I think, after the first day, staff have relaxed and procedures are working,” she said. “We’re glad to see kids and I think glad to have some sense of normalcy. It seems like the kids want to be there. It’s been quiet but it’s been positive.”

For more information on how SD53 is handling the return to school, visit their website at sd53.bc.ca.

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