The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board has approved a re-opening plan for schools in September amid the coronavirus pandemic.
While board chair Rick Petrella said staff members have been working hard on a safe back-to-school plan, he acknowledged that it’s “not perfect” and “we still have a lot of questions.”
“As a father with a child in the system, I feel confident in sending her to school,” said Petrella at a special board meeting where the 40-page plan was discussed. “Our plan provides options for every level of comfort.”
On July 30, the Ministry of Education released guidelines for the re-opening of schools for 2020-21.
Full-time in-class learning for all elementary and secondary students will resume Sept. 8 with classes taking place Monday to Friday and enhanced cleaning and health and safety protocols in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Class sizes set by the province for elementary schools will not be reduced.
Under the guidelines, all students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical cloth masks indoors, while students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to use masks.
Staff will be provided with personal protective equipment.
Staff and students are required to do a daily “self-assessment” before reporting to school and to stay home if they are feeling unwell.
Students will be coming to schools that will have enhanced cleaning protocols in place for common areas and areas and objects that are frequently touched.
Time will be made available for regular hand washing and, in places where that isn’t available, hand-sanitizer will be used. Directional signage will be placed to assist with physical distancing requirements, and schools will consider staggering nutrition, lunch and recess breaks.
School visitors also will be limited.
Parents who are uncomfortable sending their children to school will have the option of online learning.
Mike McDonald, director of education, said a survey will be sent to parents this week asking if they intend to send their children to school and whether they will be riding a school bus.
McDonald said the survey will help determine how the board will offer transportation and provide online learning.
Elementary students who elect to return to the classroom in September will receive the standard 300 minutes of instruction. Secondary schools will operate on a “quadmester” schedule, with students taking a maximum of two face-to-face classes in any given week rather than a conventional four-period semester.
The system is meant to reduce contact between students and make contact tracing easier. Scott Keys, superintendent of business and treasurer for the board, said the system is more adaptable if there is a spike in infections and the ministry or health unit orders that only half the students attend school at any given time.
It is recommended that students be designated the same seat each day to limit exposure and that work be done in small groups where physical distancing can occur. Gyms will be used only when physical distancing is possible and capacity will be limited in secondary school change rooms. Contact sports and team sports that don’t meet physical distancing requirements will be postponed.
There will be no school trips scheduled and no community use of schools after hours. Before and after school care will be provided to students, with health and safety protocols in place.
Meet the teacher events will be done online or on the phone.
Student numbers on buses will not change. Drivers will wear PPE and students will be required to wear face coverings. Students will only be allowed to sit in an assigned seat and high-touch surfaces will be disinfected twice daily.
For secondary students who elect to learn remotely, online classes may be delivered through St. Mary’s Continuing Education Learning Centre rather than their home school and some courses may not be available.
Trustee Cliff Casey said in order to lessen parents’ fear of sending their children back to school, answers are needed about what happens if a student contracts the virus, how many children are going to be riding a bus together, whether schools will be testing for COVID-19, and who will be doing remote teaching.
“We should have answers before we start,” said Casey.
McDonald said there are no clear instructions yet from the province about what will be done if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19 but “we anticipate an outbreak protocol from the chief medical officer of health.” He said the board has developed a local protocol that will be adapted as new information is received.
“We understand there is some fear and uncertainty out there,” said McDonald. “We are working to ensure the best plan is in place for the first day of school that continues into the school year.”