NESD schools prepare for worst-case scenarios

EAST CENTRAL — All students in the North East School Division (NESD) have been set up for online learning, so if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs, the students can easily shift to online learning without delay.

“Every teacher, by the end of this week, or by the end of last week, should have enrolled their students in their Moodle [online] courses, introduced those courses to their students, how to navigate, how to communicate, all of those things,” said Mark Jensen, co-ordinator of continuous improvement and reporting for the NESD.

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“We have the ability to change to a virtual environment if needed. We don’t want March 13 again.”

On March 13, schools throughout the division began to put measures in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, before closing on March 20.

Jensen described the date as one that left teachers, parents, and students ill-prepared to deliver and receive instruction in a virtual environment.

“I mentioned to my boss, Stacy Lair [superintendent of school services] and Don [Rempel, director of education for the NESD], back then, that from now on we have to move from an unknown environment to a known environment. We can’t go from unknown to unknown to unknown.”

Don Rempel said that the online system is designed to be fluid, to accommodate students moving from in-school learning to online and vise-versa with as little difficulty as possible.

“We expect some fluidity between students that might want to go full-time online if there’s outbreaks, or the conditions through flu season necessitate students staying home,” Rempel said.

“Likewise, there might be online students who want to come back to school if school is operating effectively and they’re tired of online learning at home.”

For schools in Saskatchewan, an outbreak refers to two confirmed cases of Covid-19 present in two separate classrooms in a single school.

“All that means is there will be contact tracing and an investigation by the school,” Rempel said. “Students who sit in close proximity, or have had close contact with an infected student will be sent home to pursue 811 with their family and probably to be tested and be in isolation until they can safely return.”

If there are two cases in the same classroom, the entire class will be sent home to take directions from a medical health officer before returning to school.

“There would have to be a large number of cases in a large number of classrooms in a large school to have a whole school shutdown.”

Jensen said there are anxieties present in the field about this new technology, but they’re confident they could handle a full scale shutdown. 

“It’s not going to be easy if that happens, but I know we can get it done. We have tremendous staff throughout our division, and collectively we can do it.”

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