By Mike Baker
There were no unexpected surprises last week when Trillium Lakelands District School Board outlined its plans for students’ upcoming return to school.
During a recent meeting held on Aug. 24, TLDSB Director of Learning Wes Hahn said the board is “very excited” about kicking off the school year with largely in-person learning beginning Sept. 8. While Learn@Home was an option for any student, providing parents made TLDSB aware of their choice back in June, Hahn reported that just 329 students board-wide would be participating in online learning this coming school year.
“We are very excited about starting in-person [learning] again in our schools. That is something we all in this room feel is really important,” Hahn informed TLDSB staff and trustees last week. “That’s not to say the great work done in our Learn@Home [program] hasn’t been well done by staff and accepted by families and students, but we’re glad to see [our kids] back in schools.”
He highlighted some of the health and safety measures that would, once again, be implemented this year. Mandatory masking will be in place for all students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 while inside school facilities, while student cohorting at the elementary level will be maintained, again, while inside school facilities.
Hahn did note though that, while outside, students would be free to interact with other students from outside their cohort, and would not have to wear a facemask.
One of the most significant changes surrounds the reintroduction of school clubs, extra-curriculars, sports and music programs.
“That’s one of the biggest areas for families – that was something that was really missing for our kids [last year],” Hahn said. “Our students see a connection through peers and friends through these activities. I think it’s really important [that we bring these things back].”
Facilities such as cafeterias and libraries will be gradually reopened, with Hahn encouraging principals to take a “cautious approach” to make sure there are appropriate plans for student movement and enhanced cleaning. Lockers, it was noted, would continue to be off-limits this year.
At the secondary school level, TLDSB will be using the quadmester model for student classes, something Hahn expects will remain in place until at least January. He noted that timetables for high school students would be sent out this week.
Vaccination was a hot-topic at last week’s meeting. It was noted that any visitor looking to “engage” in a school building should be vaccinated. Hahn noted that while vaccinations for students and staff are not mandatory, they are recommended. Any staff member who chooses not to be vaccinated will be asked to provide a medical exemption. Further refusal to be vaccinated will result in the staff member participating in a mandatory education session, outlining the benefits of being vaccinated. Any member of staff who is not vaccinated will be required to undergo regular COVID-19 testing.
Along with this new vaccination protocol, TLDSB is also rolling out a new quarantining initiative.
“In the past, if there was a case that came into a classroom, the teacher and students would all need to quarantine. There are detailed steps now, that if teachers and students are vaccinated, they don’t have to quarantine if they are not exhibiting symptoms,” Hahn said. “That’s important, because it means our staff can stay in the classroom and our students can maintain their class time.”
After securing additional government funding earlier this year, Hahn noted school board staff were hard at work upgrading ventilation systems at all school sites. The most notable change, Hahn says, is the installation of new HEPA filters, which will be placed in all TLDSB classrooms.
“We’re feeling good about where we’re at right now with managing proper airflow and keeping air safe within our buildings,” Hahn said.
It was noted that some secondary schools within the region would be hosting COVID-19 vaccination clinics, starting in September. Hahn said the board were currently working with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit to set up a schedule. These clinics, Hahn stressed, would be public health events, and not organized in any way by TLDSB. These clinics will provide opportunities for any student or staff to receive their vaccination if they haven’t already done so.
In closing, Hahn clarified the situation surrounding Learn@Home, saying any parent who has registered their child for online learning would have one final opportunity to change their mind in September.
“The whole idea of switching … That’s one of those things we have to stay very firm on. The model, by now, has been chosen. But, like every year, when we have students show up into schools and classrooms, we take a look at the numbers and do a September reorganization. At this point, we will look for opportunities to potentially do a reorganization [of students from Learn@Home into in-person learning], but we will not be doing this throughout the year,” Hahn said.
“There won’t be a waiting list, there won’t be opportunities [to change] every other month. We can’t do that … It’s really important for us to maintain stability. Last year we were moving, there were wait lists and it’s just not possible to do that and do it well,” Hahn concluded.