The new normal for public school students returning to class in Simcoe County amid COVID-19 will include designated entry and exit doors, staggered entry and exit times, directional arrows in hallways to prevent overcrowding, and signage to support public health practices.
The Ontario government released its return to school plan at the end of July and school boards had until Tuesday to present their proposals to the province.
Common spaces such as libraries, gyms and cafeterias will be closed, and there will be no school assemblies. The board is still waiting for the body that governs school sports to determine if extracurricular activities will go ahead.
Dawn Stephens, Superintendent of Eduation, said the guidance document talks about not allowing contact sports like wrestling and football.
Elementary students will be in class five days a week. High school students will return on a quadmester schedule, taking two courses from September to November and two different courses from November to Feburary. At that time, the board will decide whether to go back to a traditional timetable or continue with a quadmester into semester two.
Stephens said outdoor classroom opportunities will be maximized.
“We do have a lot of outdoor space in our schools. We have invested largely in outdoor classroom spaces in many of our schools and we want to maximize those as much as possible. We’ll see teachers taking their classes outside for outdoor learning.”
There will also be an emphasis on cohorting and timetabling.
“Cohorting is the practice of keeping students together with limited exposure to multiple teachers or classmates, ” said Stephens. “The timetabling model we will be using is how we’ll be creating daily schedules for students.”
At elementary schools, students will be cohorted with their homeroom class and students will remain in one classroom where possible.
The board said one key public health measure that requires a collective effort is the daily self-screening.
“All staff and students or parents of the child will be self-screening every day prior to attending school using the self-assessment tool to be provided by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, which will be provided to parents.” said Stephens.
She emphasized that any student or staff member that is feeling unwell must stay home.
There will be voluntary remote learning for students. Stephens wanted parents to know that if they go down that route for their kid they suddenly can’t change things up a few days or weeks later and expect their child to be allowed to return to the classroom.
“Students who opt for remote learning may have to remain in that platform until there is a natural term transition time. Unfortunately, we can’t have parents choosing to wait and see or wait and see how things go. They really need to determine if they are going to have in-person learning or at-home remote learning.”
Stephens said to switch-up would mean they would have to reorganize their schools and create classrooms.
“We can’t continually reorganize our schools. It’s just not something we are able to do.”
Stephens hopes with the added public health and safety measures that the board is putting into the schools that parents will opt into in-school learning, appreciating there are situations with students and family members who have significant medical conditions and they cannot.
Enhanced cleaning protocols in schools will mean cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and shared resources twice daily, such as door knobs, light switches, and toilet and faucet handles.
The board has also been working with the Simcoe County Student Transporation Consortium (SCSTC) for kids who must take the bus to school.
“Frequently touched surfaces will be cleaned twice daily,” said Stephens. “The SCSTC will be assisting schools to generate seating plans for schools on buses to support maximum physical distancing and placement of cohorted students. Medical masks and approved eyewear protection will be distributed to all bus drivers.”
The board is also making preparations to be flexible in case a second wave of COVID-19 occurs. Teachers will create digital classrooms, and should the need arise to shift to remote learning, Stephens said students and educators will be prepared to do so seamlessly. When schools were closed in March and teachers had to shift into remote learning, Stephens said it was a challenge because it took time for educators to get their classrooms going.
In the next few days, parents will receive an email survey asking them about their intentions about returning to school, transportation and technology and WiFi access. Stephens said they need families to choose so the board can staff accordingly.
The board has purchased technology supports for students who choose remote learning or should students have to transition to remote learning.
There will be several professional learning days that will happen prior to the start of school for all teachers to learn the new health and safety procedures.
The thought of attending school during a pandemic has already created anxious moments for parents and students. The board will continue to provide mental health and well-being support to students directly, through social workers and child and youth workers, as well as online.
The board said the decisions taken have been done in consultation with the Ministry of Education and the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.
- All SCDSB elementary and secondary schools will reopen with enhanced public health protocols and cohorting considerations in place, and students will return to the classroom beginning Sept. 8
– Students attending elementary schools will return full time
– Students attending secondary schools will return on a quadmester schedule, taking two courses from Sept. to Nov. and two different courses from Nov. to Feb.
– Students from Grade 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks, which will be provided by the SCDSB
– Students from Kindergarten through Grade 3 will not be required to wear masks, although it is encouraged
– Staff will be required to wear masks, which will be provided by the SCDSB, when physical distancing is not possible
– Voluntary learn at home opportunities will be available to students whose parents/guardians determine that they do not want their child to return to in-person learning
- All students and staff will be expected to self-screen prior to attending school each day, using a self-assessment tool provided by the SMDHU. Students or staff with symptoms must stay home from school
– The SCDSB will continue to provide mental health and well-being support to students directly, through our social workers and child and youth workers, as well as online
– The SCDSB is working with the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium to develop plans for transportation of students, including seating plans to support maximum physical distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols
– The SCDSB is developing a parent/guardian support platform, accessible through the SCDSB website, that will include self-help tools and resources as well as access to SCDSB staff who will provide individualized support related to technology, learning platforms, curriculum, mental health and special education needs