Limestone District School Board trustees will be mulling over COVID-19 safety precautions for back to school plans Wednesday night.
With the school year set to begin early this year, on Sep. 3, before Labour Day, the clock is ticking for boards across Ontario to implement coronavirus precautions laid out by the province in late July.
A report on school re-entry, written by the new Director of Education Krishna Burra, goes to the trustees Wednesday night. The report talks about several points where the guidelines prescripted by the ministry may not be feasible in a local context.
Namely, Burra noted that the ministry says elementary school students should remain in a cohort of 50, but Burra says the province has not allowed funding for this to happen.
“The only way we could reduce class cohorts would be to move to an adaptive model with some students attending some days, and others on different days. This is not the direction we have received,” Burra wrote.
He also noted that although elementary school students from Grade 3 and below will not be required to wear masks in Ontario, Limestone will aim to have all children masked to the best of their abilities.
“Given we are unable to consistently maintain two metre/six feet spacing between students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 classes, we will be strongly encouraging and supporting masking for Limestone’s youngest students to help reduce risk and maximize safety.”
All Kingston-area public school boards, save the French boards, have been deemed non-designate boards, which means secondary students will be going back to school full time this year.
In order to keep secondary students in smaller cohorts, Burra said Limestone aims to implement a quadmester model, in which students will study only two subjects at a time for 10 weeks before switching to two new courses.
Burra also noted the province’s promise to choose between in-person and remote learning at any time has put pressure on the school board, since the board is not set up or funded to allow for that flexibility. Depending on how many parents decide to opt for remote learning, Burra noted that the school board might have to reallocate certain teachers to focus on remote students, which is limited by collective bargaining agreements and lack of staff.
“Because of the significance and impact of reorganization of staffing in schools, it is a tremendous challenge to provide unlimited flexibility for movement from one model of learning to another,” Burra wrote.
He also noted that remote learning may not be an option for some families, who may not have access to devices, internet, or internet speeds required for remote learning.
Safety measures in Limestone schools
As for added safety measures, the board listed several changes to operations in the fall, including performing safety audits at each school before Sep. 3, daily screening of students and staff, daily records kept of everyone entering the schools, mandatory face masks for all staff and students from Grades 4 to 12, unless there is a medical reason not to wear them, and as mentioned above, encouragement for children Grades 3 and under to wear masks.
The school board also said children will not be given lockers to start the year and are asking students to come with only the items they deem necessary. This decision will be reassessed later in the year.
Playground equipment will be available for use, but all students must clean their hands prior to use and after. Cohorting and physical distancing will be implemented on playgrounds as well, according to the board.
Visitors will be limited to essential people only.
The school board has also outlined protocols for staff and students who may develop symptoms of COVID-19. Those individuals will immediately be separated until they are able to go home. Isolated students will be supervised by a staff member wearing PPE and who will be practising physical distancing until the student can be picked up by a parent or guardian.
Schools will be required to contact public health of any suspected case of COVID-19 in their facility. The board says an online tool will be available for schools and the board to report suspected or confirmed cases, with no personal information collected.
Anyone who tests positive will not be allowed back at school until they are cleared by public health, and those who test negative after a positive test will not be allowed back until they are symptom-free for 24 hours.
Although not everything has been sorted out, the board has broken down some of the known funds allotted to them by the province for safety precautions.
Overall, the province announced a total of $30 million for additional staffing for all boards. Before applying for any of that funding, boards must first use up a surplus that equals one per cent of their total revenue, which for Limestone equals $2.5 million.
The board said it will be receiving $470,000 for additional custodial staff; nearly $95,000 for health and safety training; more than $113,000 to support special education; and more than $250,000 for mental health needs.
Currently, the board says it has placed orders with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services for PPE for staff, and along with another order totalling nearly $40,000 for added cleaning supplies for schools and transportation
The board pointed to a separate $40 million in province-wide funding for the transportation sector to provide enhanced cleaning protocols, but details on the disbursement of that funding have yet to be provided.
The province has also promised an additional $15 million for technology to support remote learning, but Limestone did not have a specific number for its allocation.
More information about the reports set to be reviewed by trustees at Wednesday’s board meeting can be found here.