By Jenn Watt
Information about a pre-registration process will be going out to parents and guardians by the end of this week asking whether they intend to enrol their children full time in school or continue with remote learning at home in September.
Part of the planning process for Trillium Lakelands District School Board the information will help allocate staff schedule buses and arrange classroom space with new protocols in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when school starts.
On July 30 the Ministry of Education announced that students would return to their classrooms this fall with new safety measures in place including mandatory masks for those in Grade 4 and older enhanced cleaning regimens physical distancing and an emphasis on hand washing.
TLDSB director of education Wes Hahn gave a verbal report to the board of trustees at their meeting held online Aug. 4.
Hahn who took over the position from Larry Hope on Aug. 1 said planning for the fall will be made easier when TLDSB knows how many students will be returning and how many will learn from home.
“We need to know that information because it helps us staff and organize the building properly and to make sure that we have situations set up for the remote learning” he said during the meeting.
Those who decide to keep their children home will be able to opt-in to in-school learning later but administrators are still working on how frequently that can happen.
Because COVID-19 is easily spread through close contact between people and can be transmitted by touching shared surfaces every part of a student’s typical day at school must be examined and in many cases modified. Movement in the building needs to change with staggered break times for example. Use of shared spaces such as the cafeteria will pose new challenges. Ready access to sanitizer paper towels and hand-washing stations needs to be assured.
Hahn said students who are close by will be encouraged to walk or cycle to school when possible. Some parents may choose to drive their children. Those taking the bus who are in Grade 4 to 12 must wear a face mask and buses will be regularly cleaned.
Work is currently underway to design bus routes to have as little intermixing of kids as possible.
Asked by trustee Judy Saunders about how seating arrangements are being made superintendent of business Tim Ellis said children will be told where they should sit to keep groups of students together.
“ … we would be looking at setting up sections of the bus for particular students or particular schools … to limit that contact” Ellis said. “And I think it’ll be give and take with the operators but ideally we’re going do things like fill from the back to the front and those types of things so that we can minimize the contact between children. But because we’re talking about cohorting we’re going to try to keep the appropriate children at the school base together on the bus.”
In elementary schools students will be in class all day with their homeroom teacher though there may be interaction with other teachers but they won’t be mixing with students throughout the building.
“They’ll be staying together in that group throughout the day and teachers will interact with them in different ways throughout the day to make sure they get their full course load and full requirement in elementary” Hahn said.
At secondary schools TLDSB is looking at instituting a “quadmester” model with students at school all day studying one subject in the morning and another in the afternoon earning two credits at a time.
“Again that’s to manage the course load and to keep it manageable” Hahn said.
Trustee Gary Brohman who represents Haliburton County and spent much of his career prior to retirement as principal of Haliburton Highlands Secondary School asked what measures would be in place to keep everyone attentive given the time in class would be double the regular classroom time (from 75 minutes of instruction to 150).
Superintendent of learning Katherine McIver responded that breaks would be interspersed throughout while ensuring that cohorts of students didn’t share the same break times.
Keeping students and staff from interacting with too many people was a common refrain throughout the discussion at the meeting and Hahn said that unfortunately some parts of school life that will need to change to ensure safety.
Prohibiting visitors and volunteers is one such change.
“We’re not used to doing that” Hahn said. “We like our schools to be open to everyone and be welcoming but you can imagine in these situations that we can’t [allow visitors] … to make sure we keep our schools as safe as possible.”
Exceptions would be made in emergency situations but temporarily restricting volunteers means some programs won’t run in the same way they normally would. In particular concern was expressed about student nutrition programs in Haliburton County this program is delivered through the volunteer organization Food for Kids.
Asked by student trustee Kaylee Kelly what the board planned to do to distribute food to students Hahn said they were looking at alternative delivery methods.
“We’re trying to limit the amount of volunteers or visitors into the building so what we can do from a school point of view [is] to support single-serving portions or have things available that can be brought to the school” Hahn said. “People don’t enter but we’re able to distribute them within the building. We’re looking at all of these possible scenarios to make sure we have that nutritional breakfast support for students. It’s a difficult one. We don’t want to take that away from students and families that really rely on that. We’ll do our best.”
Brohman followed up reiterating how important the food programs were and urging administration to give it as much effort as possible.
“I really … hope all heads can come together for nutrition Food for Kids breakfast programs” he said. “… We must must support these vulnerable vulnerable kids. We preach ‘feed all four’ we must act on ‘feed all four’ and one of the greatest things this board is known for are our breakfast programs in all three counties. … As much time as you put into transportation put into nutrition programs.”
(“Feed all four” is a concept created in TLDSB that a person’s body mind spirit and emotions must be taken care of to imbue a sense of well-being and to foster student achievement.)
Aaron Walker coordinator of the Food for Kids program in Haliburton County told the Echo that 1700 students access the program. He said he hadn’t yet heard about proposed modifications of how the program is delivered. He said volunteers would probably feel safer if food was prepared off-site but it would reduce the valuable human interaction they get from the experience.
TLDSB trustees also heard at the meeting that many extracurricular activities and clubs will be cancelled this fall unless they can be delivered virtually.
“There may be situations that we have to take into consideration that could happen because the physical distancing can be maintained but that close interaction of certain sports or clubs that may involve students coming in contact we’re not prepared to put people at risk right now” Hahn said.
However phys-ed and other electives such as drama will still be offered complying with ministry expectations that a full offering of courses and credits be available. Hahn said those classes may look different to ensure safety.
McIver pointed out that for many students these elective courses are the ones they enjoy most and allowing them to go forward – in a modified fashion – would keep them engaged.
Members of the public can listen to board meetings online by going to tldsb.ca.