Local public and catholic school boards expecting more flux before September despite return-to-school plan handed down

"We have to be adaptable. We have to be flexible."

The Ministry of Education handed down plans to guide the safe return to school in the fall, and both local school board chairs say they’re looking forward to seeing this plan in action.

“It’s very nice that we finally had the details,” said Jodi Lloyd, chair of the Simcoe County District School Board. “It allows us to move forward to finalize our planning for the return to school in September.”

“There are still many uncertainties to it,” continued Lloyd. “Because we’re waiting for the guidance document that the ministry is to provide, as well as the outbreak management plan, which are key documents.”

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Her counterpart, Joe Zerdin with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, echoed her statement. “It gives us a starting point now, to really look at all the work we’ve done previously on the three alternatives, what parts are appropriate to this plan, and where are the gaps, so it’s more concise.”

Parents will have the ability to opt-out of in-class learning and choose to have their students study remotely instead. Zerdin isn’t sure which road will be the one most taken. “Sometimes feel like we’re umpires on this one because I think there are as many parents who want their kids back to school and there are many parents who are not as ambitious to get their kids back to school.”

“This has been a long, difficult five months for people,” added Lloyd. “Though there will be many that will be happy to have their children back at school, there’ll be those that have underlying health issues within their family or maybe grandparents living with them that will be worried.”

The province announced it is committing over $309 million to the plan, Zerdin hopes that will be enough. “It sounds like a lot, but over two million students. It doesn’t sound like a lot,” he said. “Once we identify the specific areas that we need to develop to implement the plan and quantify it from a cost perspective, we’ll have a better understanding in terms of the funding.”

Lloyd agrees, at least there’s funding. “There’s money attached to this which is positive. No, I don’t believe this is the amount that was indicated in projections that wouldn’t be required. But I think it gives us a starting point to move forward with a return to school.”

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The plan also requires students from Grade 4 and above to wear masks to class. Zerdin says that’s just one more life skill students will take on. “I think there’s challenges with it, like anything, you know, learning to tie your shoe for the first time, to now learning how to put a mask on. There’s going to be transitions but the more and more we condition ourselves, the more familiar we get with doing it properly.”

Both school board chairs are letting parents know things will likely change as we get closer and closer to September. “We’re in a pandemic. And it’s a situation that changes on a daily basis,” said Lloyd. “We have to be adaptable. We have to be flexible.”

“The key thing to our community is Patience. Let us get through this, we’ll identify how this plan can be implemented and share with everyone,” concluded Zerdin. “We need to work together so that we can help get our kids educated.”