By Sue Tiffin
The following are brief reports of items discussed at the board of trustees meeting of Trillium Lakelands District School Board held virtually on May 25.
As reported in the Echo, at the May 11 TLDSB board meeting, it was announced that the Progress Pride flag will be raised at the Muskoka Education Centre and Lindsay Education Centre for the month of June. At the most recent board meeting, Jennifer Johnston, superintendent of learning, said that in support of Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Plus communities, the Progress Pride flag will also be raised at schools throughout the Trillium Lakelands District School Board region from June 21 to June 30.
“Since 2012, TLDSB has promoted positive space as one of many opportunities for system learning under the umbrella of Ontario’s equity and inclusive education strategy,” said Johnston, at the May 11 meeting. “There are students, staff, parents and guardians in our school communities who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, plus. The goal of positive space has always been to create and identify safer inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ communities within TLDSB.”
The Progress Pride flag, which expands upon the classic rainbow Pride flag, was selected through consultation with student trustees as the variation of the rainbow flag “as a symbol of respect and celebration of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community” to be flown by TLDSB this year. The flag was designed in 2018 to represent inclusion and intersectionality between racialised identities and gender identity alongside sexuality.
Positive Space documents and website pages will also be updated, and educators are to be supported with curriculum connections and resources “to further embed 2SLGBTQIA+ perspectives into classroom instruction.”
“The rainbow colours of the Pride flag have long been a symbol of hope and peace and raising the flag will visibly highlight the continued commitment to ensuring equity, dignity, well-being, diversity and inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in TLDSB,” read highlights from the board meeting.
End-of-school year return a waiting game
TLDSB director Wes Hahn said that while the school board wants “students back in school,” they continue to wait for the go-ahead from the chief medical officer of health, ministry, and public health units, noting that the government’s re-opening plan is based on vaccinations.
The meeting happened Tuesday, prior to Premier Doug Ford’s letter on Thursday [May 27] to medical experts, educators and health organizations looking for input on how schools might open safely for the remainder of the school year in light of modelling showing a surge in COVID-19 cases by the end of July if schools were to reopen in June, teachers and education staff having received only a first dose of vaccine and possibility that the vaccines are not effective against the variant first identified in India. Ford requested a response to seven questions by the next day, Friday at 5 p.m.
Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday [May 25] he would like to see schools reopen prior to the province’s reopening in mid-June, and said most public health units support reopening schools.
“The vaccines are really rapidly moving along quite quickly,” said Hahn. “And again I’ll make this statement, a very positive statement, that this really has an impact on us returning in September, because we will have most of our staff vaccinated, and our [students aged] 12-to-17-year-olds starting on May 31. We will have a considerable amount of our students and staff vaccinated so that’s very, very positive for us and it’s moving quickly.”
Planning for September full of ‘moving pieces’
The school board is currently planning for both in-school and at-home learning for the 2021/22 year.
TLDSB parents were asked to register for online learning by June 1, or be placed in in-school learning in September.
“We recognize that this may be a difficult choice and ask that you carefully consider your decision, as students will not have the opportunity to switch learning options during the school year,” said the May 20 letter home to parents.
Hahn acknowledged the decision was difficult for parents who want to know more about what school options will look like prior to making a choice, but also that the school board could not plan without knowing how many students would be enrolled in each option.
“That’s really important that we have those numbers first,” he said. “I know that’s a difficult one for parents because we want to know exactly what it looks like first. We can’t do that because we can’t build something knowing our staff and our budget are so tight, without having the exact numbers because the student numbers really direct where our staffing goes. Until we know where those students are going to reside for next year, we have to get those numbers first.
“I think you know how much time right now and how much attention is planned for September,” said Hahn. “It’s not an easy process, because it involves a lot of pieces like budget, like staffing, and we don’t take that lightly because we can’t afford to make any mistakes. We know how tight our budget is with regards to supporting our September plan.
“The other part to this, we know that there are varying parent views to returning to school or remaining at Learn at Home, or wearing masks – there’s all sorts of different views. We understand parents are looking out for the best interests of their children and we expect that and appreciate that but there’s a number of things that we have to follow.”
Hahn said a quadmester or octomester set-up was being looked at for secondary school again, and that many of the pandemic-related protocols put in place last year would remain this year.
“We do know as of today there will be cohorting still in place, masking still in place, our health and safety protocols and cleaning will still be in place, but that could all change and those directives could be changing as we get closer to September,” he said. “But right now, that’s what it’s looking at. Not a whole lot of change in school, in elementary.”
For learn at home students in elementary school, a synchronous component, in which a teacher is teaching live to students, would still be in place.
“Will it be a Learn at Home school like we ran this year? We don’t believe so because the numbers aren’t showing that there’s that many students wanting to access Learn at Home. But again, these are just the things that we’re looking at right now and as we get more numbers we’ll have a better idea.”
“As far as secondary remote learning goes, the numbers are right now preliminary very low,” he said. “So again we will have to look at the students who choose that remote learning and potentially look at how we’re going to set up their course selections to look at how they can be successful – that might mean some kind of connection to the secondary school, or some kind of connection to our VLC or e-learning component.”
Hahn said the school board was encouraging all parents to complete re-registration by June 1. He said a full report would be brought to trustees at the June 8 meeting.
“We want to have this in place by the end of June, first week of July,” he said. “We believe parents need to know that, students and staff need to know that, we’re trying to avoid a massive rush to do things in a week, and everyone’s scrambling around in late August to try to get this ready. Having said that, it’s quite clear, the ministry has already indicated they will probably give us updates, somewhere in the middle of August, and those updates could be further directives about how we’re going to move into September.
“So, lots of moving parts, and it’s still going to be moving right up until September, so we’re trying to do the best we can to get organized for parents, to get organized for staff, and stay ahead of it so that we’re not scrambling. Our goal is to keep it stable, not introduce a whole lot of change and make sure people can manage this in the best way possible.”
Trustee Louise Clodd said she and other trustees had received many e-mails from parents and teachers about not wanting a hybrid model, in which live in-class, as well as synchronous at-home learning, would be taking place.
“At this point in time the hybrid model is not a model we are considering,” said Hahn. “We believe that we can fulfill what we need to do through our synchronous elementary model and both our supportive secondary students through VLC or e-learning or other modules. As you know the hybrid model that has received a lot of attention has obviously the teacher focused not only on students in their classroom but students who are also connected to the class at home. At this point in time we’re not looking at that model, we’re looking at an octomester or quad model and as we start to build that through the month of June and into July we believe we can make it work through those models.”
Trustee Gary Brohman asked if there might become a need to go to a hybrid model once the “moving parts,” mentioned by Hahn were all in place, specifically in secondary school if the number of students registered at home might be low.
“I think it’s a good question, Gary,” said Hahn. “I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t ever look at it. Right now it’s not our preferred model and we think right now with the funding that we have and the student registrations that we have potentially coming forward that we can make it work otherwise. If things change, we’d definitely bring it forward, but it is not a preferred model that we are looking at, at this time. It is not.”
The last board meeting of the 2020-2021 year takes place on June 8, virtually, at 6:30 p.m. and is available online after the meeting as well. For more information, visit http://www.tldsb.ca.