GUELPH – Officials with both Wellington County school boards say they are ready to welcome students back to conventional learning on Sept. 8.
The return will mark the first time students are in class since March 13, when the province first announced all Ontario schools would close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re really looking forward to seeing our students back in whatever form that is for September,” said Mike Glazier, director of education for Wellington Catholic District School Board (WCDSB), in an interview with the Advertiser.
“We’ve been working diligently to ensure that we have addressed some of the concerns that people may have when they come back.”
Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) superintendent Gary Slater echoed Glazier’s sentiment.
“We want our students back in our schools, along with our staff, in a matter that maximizes safety and the wellbeing of staff, students and their families,” he said a at a special board meeting on Aug. 4.
All staff at both school boards, as well as bus drivers, will be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) to complete their jobs.
All schools and buses will also have enhanced cleaning and disinfectant protocols.
While both school boards are welcoming students back for classes five days a week, it’s not going to be business as usual.
Both boards have sent a survey to parents and guardians asking, among other questions, whether their children will return for face-to-face instruction or remote learning and if they require transportation.
Parents/guardians in both boards must pre-register for school by Aug. 14.
All elementary students will return to class full-time in both boards.
Students in Grades 4 to 8 will be required to wear a face covering, while students from kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to wear one.
If students are fooling around with their face coverings, Glazier said the board’s primary concern is that they understand the importance of the health and safety protocols that are in place.
“It (is) some of our responsibility to help make them teachable moments or learning moments and so we will continue to guide our students making good decisions,” he said.
Students will remain in their one class or cohort for the entire day, including recess and lunch, to limit the amount of contacts each person has in one day.
“We’ll be staggering some of their recesses and lunch within the school day; bathroom breaks, etcetera, just to ensure that we can kind of keep those students together,” Glazier said.
Slater explained that in the UGDSB if rotation is required for classes the teacher will move, not the students.
“We will also schedule outside classes as possible and practical,” he said.
“Students will be able to leave their classrooms to receive additional supports, but direct and indirect contacts for schools for students should be limited to approximately 50.”
Both boards say they are going to put a large focus on hand hygiene, especially before and after meals.
Also, students will be encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottle to school. Water bottle refilling stations will be available to students, but they will not be able to use the water fountain.
“In our elementary schools, some things like visitor or volunteer access will be limited because we are trying to limit the number of people that we’re introducing to the area,” Glazier said.
The same is true for the UGDSB.
School start and end times may also be staggered at both boards to allow for physical distancing requirements.
Students in secondary schools throughout Wellington County will see more of a difference than their elementary counterparts.
Because both boards are non-designated by the province, students will be in school full-time, five days a week.
In both boards, high schools students will be “quadmestering,” which means that instead of having the traditional four courses per semester, students will take two classes a day for about 10 weeks before moving onto the next two classes.
Glazier explained that the rationale is two fold.
First, the quadmestering model limits the number of contact points between students.
“If you’re only part of two classes then you’re part of only two cohorts of students, as opposed to four in a traditional model,” he said.
It potentially cuts the number of daily contacts in half.
“So it’s important for us to keep our classes and our cohorts small so that we can limit exposure and also that helps us in terms of any contact tracing for students should there be any sort of illness,” Glazier said.
Secondly, if the school board is told by the Ministry of Education or public health to move to an adaptive hybrid model, with students doing in-school and online learning, the quadmester model makes the transition easier.
“The ministry has asked school boards to ensure that whatever you are doing, that you’re able to move from any of the models, be that conventional to a hybrid to remote,” Glazier explained.
“And so by limiting it to a smaller number of courses it just makes it a little bit better for our students as well.
“It’s a little bit more intensive learning, but it’s a little bit more controlled in terms of the health and safety protocols.”
Parents and guardians will decide whether their child will attend face-to-face instruction or whether they will stay home and learn remotely in an online format.
However, if students stay home initially but parents/guardians change their mind partway through the year, it’s not an immediate transition.
“We need people to give careful consideration to what they would like and we would encourage families to consider some of the safety measures that are put in place when they’re making their decision,” Glazier said.
“If … they’re not feeling comfortable and they decide to do that online model, just … know that it’s not an immediate response to be able to come back to a face-to-face learning model.”
With elementary school, Glazier said the school would need “considerable advanced notice” about a request for re-entry.
“It’s not an expectation that we can immediately turn around and have a student come back to school, because we would be introducing that student to the cohort and that has implications as well for our planning process with staffing, etc.” he said.
For secondary school students, the logical re-entry time would be at the beginning of a quadmester.
However, neither board has made firm plans about when and how re-entry would happen.
In terms of bussing, Glazier said WCDSB would be encouraging physical distancing as much as possible on school buses, but will have a better idea of what that will look like once parents complete the survey and the board knows how many students will need transportation.
The UGDSB has said seating arrangements will be developed to support physical distancing during loading and unloading and students will need to wear face coverings as per school guidelines.
Each board has protocols in place if students or staff show signs of COVID-19.
Parents or guardians will be required to complete a daily screening of their child for COVID-19 symptoms.
They will need to check their child’s temperature, monitor for signs and symptoms, and if the child does show any, he/she must stay home and the parent or guardian must contact the school.
If a student becomes symptomatic in school, they will be separated and supervised in an isolation room.
The parent or guardian will be contacted immediately for pick up.
If a school has a positive case of COVID-19 the board will follow the direction of public health. This may require one or more classes moving to remote learning or the school to close for face-to-face instruction.
Any students or staff who test positive for COVID-19 must bring medical clearance before they can return to face-to-face instruction.
For more information on return-to-school plans at the UGDSB, including access to a parent/guardian survey, visit www.ugdsb.ca/community/coronavirus/reopening-schools-plan.
For more WCDSB information and access to the WCDSB parent/guardian survey, visit wellingtoncdsb.ca/schoolopening/.
Parents/guardians in both boards must pre-register for school by Aug. 14.