LETHBRIDGE -- Students will be going back to school in just over two weeks but a recent survey by the Lethbridge School Division shows many parents are still not ready to send their children back.

More than 17 percent of people who responded to the survey said they are opting for at-home learning this fall.

“There’s a lot of anxiety out there and it’s warranted,” said public school board chair Clark Bosch.

“So the most complicated school year in history is about to begin and we’ll see how it works out.”

LSD Supt. Cheryl Gilmore says the survey also found that about half of parents who qualify for busing plan to drive their kids to school instead.

Gilmore said school division staff has been working through the summer to ensure that they have all the proper health protocols in place.

Almost 9,000 people responded to the survey, with nearly 83 per cent indicating they would be sending their children to school on Sept. 1.

“The next step becomes quite complex,” said Gilmore. “Because now we have to assign staff to the learning-at-home cohort."

Once those teachers have been selected, Gilmore says the schools will need to reconfigure their staffing with the remaining teachers.

“Were hopeful that by the week of August 24 that schools will be able to communicate more clearly to the parents what everything will look like," she said.

Parents will be provided with guides that will be specific to each school. Details about how student transportation will work will also be provided to parents around the end of that week.

“At least 50 per cent of families who qualify to have their children bused are choosing to take their own children to school, rather than put them on the bus,” said Gilmore.

She added that will be helpful when it comes to meeting distancing guidelines for students that will be using the bus.

Because some parents felt it was too early to make a decision on returning to school, the school division has created three pivot points to allow students to switch between in-school learning and at-home learning.

Those dates have been set for Nov. 10, Jan. 29, 2021, and March 31, 2021.

“What we’re looking at is trying to have optimal flexibility, be as nimble as we can,” said Gilmore.

Parents who choose to send their kids back to school can expect to see a number of changes, including health protocols such as masks and sanitizer, the use of cohorts, seating plans for buses and classrooms, as well as staggered lunch and recess times.

A detailed, system wide re-entry plan has been posted on the Lethbridge School Division website.

However, specific plans are also being developed for each school, based on room sizes, furniture, and the number of students.

Families that opt for at-home learning can also expect things will be far more structured than it was before the summer break.

“They can anticipate that their child will have a full school day schedule,” said Gilmore. “Some of that will be direct teacher instruction, some will be accessing resources and materials posted on a site for them, some of that will be independent learning.”

Gilmore said the schools will be offering full curriculum delivery to students who are learning at home.

“At-home learning should and will mirror the level of learning that students will have in school," she said.

Parents representing about 3,000 students did not respond to the survey. The Lethbridge School Division says unless it hears from those families, it’s assumed that those children will be returning to school this fall.

The buildings are already being prepared with hand sanitizing stations, floor markings, and stocked with masks, face shields.

“First and foremost parents are concerned about the health and safety of their kids,” said Bosch. “We are putting that at the very top of our list.”