By Kirk Winter
Since early August, senior staff at the Trillium Lakelands District School Board have been working with principals, local health units and the provincial Ministry of Education to safely re-open schools on Sept. 7.
While parts of the plan remain fluid, Director of Education, Wes Hahn, hopes to see students return to schools with recess, music and choir, open cafeterias and libraries and a full buffet of extracurriculars being offered to enrich the lives of students.
“There has been a lot happening this summer,” Hahn told trustees at their Aug. 24 regular board meeting. “Area COVID cases remain low and they are not rising like they were in the spring. As of today, there are seven confirmed cases in Muskoka, one in Haliburton and 20 in Kawartha Lakes. Those numbers are hopeful, but we will still be continuing with many of the protocols that we have already been doing like deep cleaning high touch surfaces and improving air quality with the installation of HEPA filtration systems in area schools.”
Hahn said masks will be required on board supplied buses, and for kindergarten to Grade 12 students while in class.
Cohorting will continue for elementary students while they are inside the building, but students will be allowed to mix freely on the playground and share balls and equipment during recess without masks.
“Clubs and teams are back on,” Hahn said. “Many parents want these back and we believe that the opportunities for peers to make connections will be important for students at all grades.”
Secondary schools will be following the quadmester model with one subject in the morning and one subject in the afternoon for approximately 40 days until the end of semester one. Hahn is hoping that all secondary schools will be able to move back to full semesters as quickly as possible.
“Libraries and cafeterias will be open at secondary schools.” Hahn said. “It is important that we re-open these spaces and the month of September will be a learning curve as we try to do this safely for all. We are still in negotiation with companies like Aramark who provide our cafeteria services and we are hoping they will be open when school returns.”
School sports will be encouraged
Hahn also said that OFSSA, the umbrella organization for secondary school sports, is up and running, and locally “sports are going to be encouraged.”
Visitors to schools must be vaccinated if they are going to be interacting with people inside the building, Hahn added.
Trustee John Byrne wanted to know the vaccination status for school bus drivers and was told that drivers should be vaccinated.
Trustee Gary Brohman asked for more clarification about elementary school recesses, wanting to know how much freedom the kids will have on the playground. He was assured students will be able to mix and share sports equipment.
Vice-chair David Morrison was excited about the return of music but wondered how safety could be ensured in music rooms where singing and instrument playing are occurring.
Hahn told Morrison that, particularly in some elementary schools, the space currently being used for the delivery of the music program is too small to allow social distancing. Principals in those schools have been asked to find larger spaces to host music classes.
Student trustee Alexia Evan-Turnbull wanted to know if secondary students would gain access to lockers again. Hahn said that at this point lockers encourage gathering and become additional high touch surfaces that need to be cleaned. Hahn said students made do without them last year, and will again this school year.
Student trustee Ryder Lytle asked when students will receive their timetables and was told sometime during the week of Aug. 30.
Craig Horsley, President of OSSTF District 15, said, “I think our members’ comfort levels with the current COVID restrictions are similar to that of the general public and it covers quite a large spectrum. We have members very concerned about personal safety with the unknown of the Delta variant, the effectiveness of ventilation and lack of cohorting while at the same time other members are quite open about being double vaccinated with a willingness to follow health unit guidelines to get things like extracurriculars up and going. We firmly believe that extracurriculars are voluntary and the criteria for them to run should be based on the comfort level and willingness of a teacher to facilitate them.”