Following the direction of the Ministry of Education and Chief Public Health Officer, the LDSB has released its’ back to school plan for the 2021/22 school year, with hopes to avoid having to once again shut down in person schooling.
Krishna Burra, Director of Education, addressed a handful of media members on Tuesday, saying the school board is excited and ‘cautiously optimistic’ as in person learning draws nearer to a return.
He commended the resiliency and flexibility of staff, students and parents throughout the last year of pivoting when needed to continue learning, and noted that flexibility should be expected to be needed again.
“We have to maintain that flexibility and understand that we don’t necessarily control all of these circumstances and we have to make sure we’re able to adapt to changing circumstances as the pandemic evolves,” Burra said.
Many things are remaining the same in the school board and province’s back to school plan, but some changes come along with the return to school.
A major update is the measured reintroduction of gatherings like assemblies, physical education, field trips and music programs, with a focus on trying to utilize outdoor space.
The structure of the day will also look very different, with the school board emphasizing cohorts to minimized contact in school.
Elementary school students will remain in one cohort throughout the day, while high school students will operate in a quadmester model, having two courses per day, for at least the first half of the year.
The LDSB’s plan as far as cohorts in elementary school takes added precaution by encouraging students to remain in cohorts while outside at recess, with Burr saying that is what students have become accustomed with already.
Staff and students are required to complete daily COVID screening, wear a mask indoors and on student transportation, and physical distancing will continue to be encouraged.
Students who wish to do so will also still have the option to participate via online learning instead.
The government’s back to school plan also addresses the mental health and wellbeing of students, with Communication Officer Karen Smith noting one example being the availability of Limestone staff through the last two summers to help students and families access support.
The provincial government and school board’s plan is aimed to return all students back to school and engage all students, and so takes extra care into monitoring and working with marginalized students.
Burra added that the board recognizes that not everyone has been impacted evenly by the pandemic, and that measures have been put in place to offer the appropriate support to students who need it.
“I think that goes back to the need of everyone in the educational sector to make sure that they’re being responsive to the individual needs of each student and providing the necessary supports,” Burra said.
“We have excellent partnerships with a range of support agencies in the community to make sure we’re doing the best we can to support those students who may need additional supports beyond what the classroom teacher or school staff may be able to provide.”
Burra added that he expected a number of questions remaining in the school board’s plan to be addressed in today’s press conference by Chief Public Health Officer Kieran Moore, saying he hoped that they would receive some direction especially around vaccinations of staff.
Chief among those concerns included the vaccination policy for school board employees.
In today’s lengthy press conference, Dr. Moore announced that school employees will be required to be vaccinated or undergo frequent rapid antigen testing.
Additionally he announced that booster shots will be made available for vulnerable populations in Ontario and that vaccinations will now be eligible for any child who turns 12 this year.
Moore emphasized the importance of vaccinations, but critics of today’s announcement say it is a “half-measure” and that mandatory vaccination should be the logical next step.
In Burra’s media availability, he said following the announcement by Dr. Moore the school board should be able to add further clarity as far as staff vaccine provisions and unvaccinated students participating in events like sports.
The plan is expected to evolve as the year goes on and the vaccination and COVID case situation changes, and Burra says the school board is still prepared for a worst case scenario where students are required to resign to online learning.
He says he is confident however that based on public health guidelines, it is safe for schools to reopen in the area.
Students in the Limestone District School Board will return to classrooms on September 7.