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Here's how back-to-school might look different in Yukon this year

Children could have assigned school bus seats and staggered drop-off times when school resumes in September, the Yukon government says.

Assigned bus seats, staggered lunch breaks, no singing and lots of hand-washing

Children are encouraged to load onto the bus back-to-front this year, with a limit of two people per seat. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Students may have assigned school bus seats, staggered start times, rearranged classrooms, and specific hand-washing rules when school resumes next month, the Yukon government says.

The Department of Education has released more detailed guidelines for how schools and bussing should operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with finalized plans promised by Aug. 12.

The guidelines emphasize distancing where possible, as well as frequent cleaning and procedures if students get symptoms.

Among the recommendations, students should load onto the bus from back to front — and offload from front to back — in an effort to prevent "unnecessary mixing," said David Wipf, assistant deputy minister. Students should also stay two metres apart while waiting for the bus.

"This is not going to be a normal year," Wipf said.

The guidelines recommend assigned seating on the bus, with a limit of two people per seat unless they are from the same household. People are encouraged to find other ways to school, in an effort to create more space for those who need the bus.

Once at school, Wipf said students will have "very specific directions" on how to move in hallways, as well as when and how they should wash their hands.

In the classroom, students should be spread out and/or organized into smaller groups, the guidelines say. They suggest rearranging desks for more spacing and holding classes in larger locations like gymnasiums or outside.

The guidelines recommend staggered pick-up and drop-off times, as well as staggered lunch and recess breaks. Wipf said some schools may have staggered start times. 

Groups of students should be separated throughout the day, the guidelines say, with traffic flow managed in the hallways and common areas.

The Yukon government announced earlier this month that all students from kindergarten to Grade 9 will receive full days of in-class instruction, five days a week, once the new school year gets underway next month. 

Older students in Whitehorse — those in Grades 10 to 12 — will only attend school in-person for half of the day, while studying at home or somewhere else for the rest. High school students outside of Whitehorse will be in class full-time.

No wind instruments, but field trips permitted

There will be several procedures in place if students or staff show symptoms, the government said. 

If a student shows symptoms, for instance, staff must immediately separate the child from others, contact their caregiver to pick them up as soon as possible, keep distance and give the student a mask or tissues to cover their coughs or sneezes.

Singing and playing a wind instrument will not be allowed in school, the guidelines say. Phys-ed classes should be outside when possible, and outdoor and on-the-land programming is encouraged.

Overnight camping trips and field trips to other provinces are currently permitted, but will be reassessed at the start of the year.

International field trips are not allowed under the guidelines. 

Increased cleaning, avoid hugs

High-touch areas should be disinfected at least twice a day in school, including washrooms, doorknobs and desks, the guidelines say. Staff and students can clean their own areas, however, to reduce work for custodial staff.  Among the hand-washing guidelines, students must wash their hands every time they enter a new classroom.

Students who develop symptoms at school will not be allowed to go home on the school bus. However, asymptomatic students and drivers can still use the bus if somebody in their household is sick, according to the guidelines.

Students and bus drivers should also sanitize their hands before and after boarding, and the busses will be cleaned and disinfected after each trip.

Schools are encouraged to take measures to reduce close contact, including removing toys that encourage close group play. The guidelines acknowledge that close contact may be necessary, such as to "comfort an upset student."

"Close greetings such as hugs and handshakes should be avoided. Instead, encourage non-physical gestures such as 'air fives', waves or nods," the guidelines say.

Cases should be confidential, guidelines say

Schools should not allow people to share food, the guidelines say, and students should have lunch in their classroom wherever possible.

Masks are not mandatory, but staff may wear a non-medical mask if they want.

The department says COVID-19 cases should be confidential, and schools should not notify people if a student or staff member is diagnosed.

"Should a COVID-19 positive person be identified significant efforts will be undertaken to determine if they are part of a cluster of cases or part of a local outbreak," the guidelines say.

You can read more of the school setting guidelines here. The school bus guidelines can be found here.

With files from Mike Rudyk

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