Continued vigilance key in pandemic: education director

The following are brief reports of items discussed at the Trillium Lakelands District School Board meeting on Nov. 10.

By Jenn Watt

Staff at area schools are being encouraged not to let their guard down as the school year progresses, continuing to observe strict protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Wes Hahn, director of education for Trillium Lakelands District School Board, told trustees at their meeting on Nov. 10 that the number one statement from public health officials was “don’t let your guard down.”
“It’s human nature as we move forward to want to move into that normalcy and become more relaxed in an environment that is still … at risk from, you know, potentially getting the virus. We are always trying to be on our guard,” he said.

As the winter approaches, more attention will need to be paid to the cleaning and storage of winter clothing, he said.
“It’s a piece that we’re not concerned about, we know our administrators can handle that, but keeping to our environment of cleaning of high-touch surfaces and avoid congregating and mixing of cohorts while we’re doing all of that is something we’re continuously thinking about because you can imagine with all the clothing and boots and everything coming in, it would be easy to relax back into a regular day, a regular setting, a regular routine of how to do that, but we are going to maintain our protocols of how that is stored and not get into lockers … so we can stay as safe as possible.”
Hahn said that requests are still regularly made from community partners to visit the schools, but the policy remains that only essential staff are permitted.
“We are going to continue to look at that, because we don’t want to withhold services from any of our kids or supports for our teachers, but again I can’t say it enough: we’re taking it very slowly and being very careful about how we do that,” he said.

Schools to close on snow days
In order to keep student cohorts separate and to ensure secondary students don’t fall behind when buses aren’t running, TLDSB will be closing schools during snow days.
Typically, when there’s bad weather, those students and staff who are able to make it to the school would go forward with classes.
In elementary school, often students from different classes would be mixed together because some teachers may not have been able to make it in. This practice wouldn’t be advisable during the pandemic, as students are being kept to their own cohort.

In high schools, students are learning in “octoblocks,” taking one class at a time for a set number of days before moving on to the next block. If their classes continued for only those who could safely make it in, some students would be missing a huge portion of course material.
“Knowing the … small number of days that secondary students have, if they miss learning for a day or two then it becomes a real issue,” Hahn said.
On days when the buses aren’t running, the school will be closed and students will be expected to learn from home online.
“We will get a majority of our students learning on a snow day, which is a little bit different than we’ve had in the past,” he said.

Equity plan in the works
An equity task force made up of staff and community members will be formed in the next couple of weeks for TLDSB, working toward creating an equity plan.
Hahn highlighted issues related to poverty, racial diversity, the LGBTQ community, access to technology and infrastructure.
The intention is for the task force to “look at our board and areas of our board that we can improve upon and areas of the board that we can grow and support for learning for both students and staff,” Hahn said. “… This isn’t something that just turns around in a couple months, this isn’t something that turns around in a year. This is a plan that continues to grow year after year.”