By Nick Bernard
Trillium Lakelands District School Board director of education Wes Hahn gave his last COVID-19 update for 2021 ahead of the winter break at the final meeting on Dec. 14. He reported that, while they were seeing a decline in cases in Muskoka and Haliburton, numbers were increasing in Kawartha Lakes, and that the board would continue to monitor the situation.
Regarding cases in the schools, Hahn reported no active cases at the secondary school level. He also reported that all previously reported outbreaks have since been resolved. Hahn said that vaccinating those aged five to 11 will help to keep the case counts as low as they are now, despite an increase in cases in some communities.
“We know that the vaccination of the five- to 11-year-olds are a big part of this,” Hahn said. “If the secondary schools are a reflection of what can happen with the vaccination rates and all the other things, then we’re hoping that will happen with our five- to 11-year-olds.”
Hahn said students were sent home with rapid antigen testing kits at the start of the winter break.
“Each student will get a kit that they will be using … over the course of the holidays to test to ensure that they’re … not carrying the COVID virus,” Hahn said.
The test, Hahn specified, is for students only, and that kits for staff are not yet available. He said that the board will be monitoring that particular dimension of the situation and promised to provide an update in the future.
Hahn also wanted to reassure parents and staff that, should the plan to return to school change over the holiday break, schools were well-prepared to allow staff and students to return to the building to collect their belongings.
In an email to the Times, TLDSB communications officer Sinead Fegan confirmed that schools were still planning to return in-person following the break, and that parents would be notified of any changes.
“TLDSB follows the directives of the local and provincial health units and the Ministry of Education in relation to all COVID-19 restrictions; at this time we have not been advised by the Medical Officer of Health or by the Minister of Education that schools will be required to close to in-person learning in January,” said Fegan. “Should provincial directives change over the holidays, we will communicate to staff and families as promptly as possible. We will also provide opportunities for students and staff to collect items from their schools should we move to online learning in the new year.”
Secondary school students, staff consulted on return to semester schedule
Following an announcement in November from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, schools in the province were given permission to return to the pre-pandemic semester system.
In a report to the board, TLDSB superintendent Kim Williams said that Trillium Lakelands put a pause on proceeding with that return until the second school term, saying that principals across the board would take “a measured approach to the decision making in order to determine what was in the best interest of our students.”
“Principals engaged in a wide range of conversations with students about semesters versus quadmesters,” Williams said. “We opted for conversations with students, instead of a survey, to allow principals to more fully engage students in a discussion about the pros and the cons of both systems.”
Williams said the objective was to achieve a deeper understanding of the impact of both systems on student learning. She said staff were consulted in the same manner.
“While many students enjoyed quadmesters, many others preferred the semestered system, where they could spend more time learning the key concepts to help with their retention of material for future use,” she said.
The benefit of having more time to learn and retain information was also echoed by teachers and principals.
“Additionally, moving to semesters provides a common lunch hour, which will better facilitate the ability for schools to offer support for students at lunch, and to continue with extra-curricular activities,” Williams said.
Ultimately, Williams said, it was decided that a return to a semester schedule was best for student learning.
“Given this advice, and the fact that there are no current cases [of COVID] in our high schools, we’ve made the decision to return to a semestered system in February,” Williams concluded.
Jersey Day raises funds for board-wide wellness initiative
At the outset of his director’s report, Wes Hahn reported that November’s board-wide Jersey Day fundraiser to benefit the Feed all Four Fund raised a grand total of $8,454.
The Feed All Four Fund was launched by TLDSB last year, with the goal of supporting students’ school life, mental health, physical health, and overall well-being.
The next TLDSB meeting will be the Committee of the Whole meeting on Jan. 11 at the Muskoka Education Centre.