The Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) is preparing for the school year with 85 per cent of its students so far opting for in-person learning.

Director of education Wesley Hahn spoke to the board of trustees Aug. 18 about back -to-school plans. After the board received a 92 per cent response rate for re-registration, Hahn reported that 85 per cent of those responses across the district are choosing in-person learning.

Hahn said the virtual school will be fully staffed with the expectation for much more rigorous learning compared to remote classes this past spring.

Superintendent Katherine MacIver said staff will learn from improvements made during virtual summer schools.

“We’ve made great gains in delivery of remote learning and we’re going to use those learnings,” MacIver said. TLDSB is one of the boards that will be returning to full-time in-person learning in September. Hahn said they are planning for issues, including washroom procedures, schedules and outbreak protocols.

Vice-chair David Morrison thanked staff for their efforts but added there is concern around crowded classrooms and buses. He said the number of students returning will make that challenging and asked whether the extra funding provided by the province for back-to-school could help address that.

“Social distancing is pretty difficult with 25 kids in a classroom,” Morrison said. “That’s a reality.”

Hahn said staff are examining all areas for that funding, but it will go quickly towards extra staffing, procedures, and supplies.

“We’re going to be looking at those hotspots or areas requiring additional attention or staffing,” he said.

The board of trustees voted to write a letter to the province addressing their frustrations with how it has handled back to school.

Morrison said it is important that boards speak out about issues in the plan. He said the government has failed to ensure class sizes are within parameters recommended by public health officials.

“What our kids and our families and our staff deserve is a situation where they feel absolutely safe because they know we’re following things that the health people have recommended,” he said. “This government has just not managed it that way.”

Trustees were also critical of the province unlocking board reserves for back-to-school, versus providing more funding. The province has allocated $309 million for additional staffing, cleaning and equipment. They added another $50 million for improving ventilation and $18 million for online learning Aug. 13. But education workers’ unions have criticized the plan as not being enough to ensure safety and reduce class sizes.

Trustee John Byrne said rural boards should have had the option for the adapted model – with students attending in-class instruction on alternating days – that designated schools in urban centres are doing.

“My frustration as a trustee, and probably as staff will attest to, is they keep changing the yardstick they’re using to whip you with,” Byrne said.

Trustee Louise Clodd said she agreed with sending a letter, but added it is important to recognize the help the province has provided.

“I’m looking to say we appreciate your support,” Clodd said. “But I would like to also ask, keep us better informed and ask us for our opinions.”

“We do have to compliment where it’s due,” chair Bruce Reain said. “But we also have to suggest shortcomings we see as a board.”

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