By Nick Bernard
The following are brief reports on items discussed at the Trillium Lakelands District School Board trustees meeting, held on Jan 11.
TLDSB director Wes Hahn’s first update for the year characterized an eventful return to school for the new year, alluding to the delayed return to classes and the pivot between online learning and the return to in-person classes as of Jan. 17.
“Obviously the return to school has been eventful and, again, filled with change and increased anxiety for staff and families, and that does not go unrecognized by us,” he said. “Obviously the increase in cases and the hospitalization rate has dictated a lot of what we’re dealing with right now.”
Hahn described a number of new measures in place across the board, including a fresh shipment of HEPA filters, new masking protocols, and a new screener for staff and students, which Han says will be even more important, following the Ontario government’s suspension of COVID case reporting in schools.
“We will look at a number of factors with public health guidance over the next number of days, and at this time there is no collection or reporting of COVID data and cases from public health – that’s been clearly stated. And there’s been no further Ministry direction on that,” Hahn said. “And I think that’s really important for us to know.”
According to the TLDSB COVID-19 response page, principals will be required to report school absences to the local
public health unit if the absences in the school exceed 30 per cent of the school enrollment.
Hahn said that if absentee rates were too high at any particular school, that there was a plan in place to move classes online. He also acknowledged that there will need to be significant consultation between the board and individual principals and their staff, due to the unpredictable number of variables that would precipitate a school or class closure.
“We do have a process in place that we will make decisions based on those factors,” he said. “It’s not a decision we can make and blanket for all schools, because there are many factors that will determine whether we do that. And each school has unique situations that will either allow them to remain in-person or have to move [online].”
Hahn assured the board that, while the decision to close schools rested with the board, consultation with public health units would continue.
“If we ever had a question or a scenario or a situation that we just weren’t sure of, we know that we can reach out to our public health units, and they’ve been excellent,” he said. “But for the most part, this is now a decision that will be made by us because the data and the contact tracing is not being done by public health, so it will be left to us to manage – from a school perspective – the safety and well-being of staff and students.”
He added that asynchronous learning – that is, learning without a live teacher – was available to schools that are open, but have students whose parents have decided to keep them home, or are sick, or are isolating from COVID-19.
Assignments, activities, and tasks will be made available for those students on their online classroom platform.
“This is new territory, and we certainly can’t replace the work of a public health unit, especially multiple public health units, but we will do our very best to communicate that to families,” Hahn said.
Schools will be providing high-quality, three-ply cloth masks to staff and students. PCR self-collection kits for students and staff will also be available for those experiencing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 while at school. Rapid antigen tests will be provided to students as well, with elementary students and staff initially receiving two tests. According to TLDSB’s website, secondary students will also receive rapid antigen tests at a later date.TLDSB’s superintendent of learning, Jennifer Johnston, updated the board on an action plan for Indigenous education for the year, created by the board’s Indigenous Education Advisory Committee to identify key goals for the board’s Indigenous education portfolio.
Indigenous advisory committee plans for new year
The Indigenous Education Advisory Committee meets regularly to guide initiatives and activities in TLDSB schools, ensuring that Indigenous history and culture is honoured and celebrated with respect.
Johnston reported that staff had conducted training through the Elders in Residence program, as well as a presentation by Sherry Telford, who led a program called Gatherings for Truth and Reconciliation in partnership with Anne Taylor, cultural archivist from Curve Lake First Nation.
She also reported that members of the committee had a “robust conversation” about the Indigenous voluntary self-identification program that TLDSB has run for a number of years now. According to TLDSB’s procedure on voluntary self-identification, the program’s goal is to inform a more focused approach for programming and to facilitate efforts for increased resources for Aboriginal students.
“The voice of the committee courageously identified the feelings that some families may have when they are considering whether to voluntarily self-ID in the school system and the committee strongly voiced why we collect this data and for what outcome,” Johnston told the board. “In truth, [TLDSB] hasn’t fully leveraged the data we have collected, in terms of taking a look at our students and thinking about what is the intersection of that data with student special education data, graduation rates, credit accumulation, etcetera.”
Johnston said the board had seen a steady increase of self-identifications.
She went on to explain that the committee intends to make a plan to identify barriers that may exist for Indigenous students across the board, and find areas of education and programming where Indigenous students are being under-served.
“As a learning organization, I know director Hahn and I have spoken about that commitment to establish a plan to regularly report back to our Indigenous education committee, and build goals to … ensure that all outcomes are met for Indigenous students,” she said. “All of that to say, I’m privileged to work with the Indigenous education committee, and the voices of our partners at that table are so instrumental to our strategic plan and board improvement and equity plan.”
The full meeting is available to view at www.tldsb.ca/board/board-meetings.