Trillium Lakelands District School Board will use money fromits reserves for health and safety including reducing class size incertain situations but there will be situations such as on full buses when physical distancing will be difficult to achieve trustees heardat their board meeting on Aug. 18.
Wes Hahn director of education gave an update on back to school plans for September including funding decisions from the Ministry of Educationto address coronavirus precautions. Among them the announcement thatboards could use two per cent of their reserve funds.
“We are obviously looking at using [those funds] for everything we canaround health and safety with regards to whether it be physicaldistancing or reducing class size in certain situations” Hahn said.
“The budget that we have it’s sufficient enough to do some things but itcertainly isn’t going to lower class size in all the places that wewanted to do but we will come up with a very detailed plan around theuse of that reserve funding and we will definitely make sure that webring that forward” he said.
The ministry also allocated $309 million to school boards with fundingearmarked for personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning. Hahnsaid additional funding had been made available for ventilation inschools.
“On top of our regular maintenance of our ventilation systems … we arelooking at things like filter changes HEPA filters air flushing asimmediate things that we can do to improve air quality” he said.
Signage is being installed at all public buildings to ensure everyone maintains physical distancing recommendations while inside. Enhanced cleaning isplanned throughout the day.
“The passion and the commitment to making this work within the building isreally outstanding” Hahn said of the custodial staff. “So I want tothank them for all the work that they did over the summer and whatthey’ve been doing to get us ready for our first day.”
As of Tuesday about 15 per cent of students at TLDSB had opted for remote learning with 92 per cent of families responding to the board’sre-registration request. About 1600 elementary students and 530secondary students across the whole board will be taking part in remotelearning.
Parents were asked to make their intentions known to the board so that planning for classrooms and bus routes could take place.
“Our remote learning will … be a virtual school that we will staff. … We are receiving additional funding for that kind of staffing” Hahn said.
An outbreak protocol is still in the works for “symptom management andassessment and all the procedures that will deal with how we will goabout dealing with symptoms that arise if they do” he said.
In order to get students and staff used to the new way of doing thingsthe first week will have a staggered start splitting the classes inhalf with one group coming two days and the other group coming the other two.
“It’ll give teachers and staff a chance to review routines and really get theclassroom and the routines set up prior to having everyone back. Wethink that’s a good way of doing it. And certainly we’ll be ready tomove into our second week hopefully with those routines in place andeveryone feeling good about that” Hahn said.
Vice-chair David Morrison questioned how physical distancing would be maintainedwith 85 per cent of students opting to return to the brick-and-mortarschool buildings and getting on buses together.
“Social distancing is pretty difficult with 25 kids in the classroom that’s a reality” Morrison said.
Hahn said the money from the ministry would be used quickly. “We’re going to be looking at those hotspots or areas that we’re going to requireadditional attention whether it be staffing or extra custodial staff”he said.
Superintendent of business Tim Ellis said busing challenges were plentiful andplanning would focus on keeping cohorts of students together andemploying masks to help lower the risk when students could not be twometres apart.
“The challenge around transportation is that we can’t really do a whole lotabout physical distancing in terms of capacity when you look at thewhole sector not just TLDSB in terms of transportation drivershortages are common. The ability to purchase buses is a bit of an issue when you think a bus costs upwards of $110000 to put on the road”Ellis said.
Students from different schools would be picked up on the same bus in some cases.
“We’re limited in options of what we can do around it beyond masking” hesaid. Windows could be open during warmer months to provide betterventilation and masks would be available if a child who required one did not have one.
Additional drivers is also an issue with many of them being in the 70-plus agebracket that is at highest risk if they contract the coronavirus.
Student trustee Kaylee Kelly a sked severalquestions about what school would look like for students including what would happen during lunch hour a time when high school students areaccustomed to either eating in the cafeteria together or leaving thebuilding to get lunch in town.
Superintendent of learning Katherine McIver said the board was in talks with thehealth unit about how best to handle lunch hour.
“It’s anticipated that central gathering areas like cafeterias would not beused in the traditional methods that they have in the past simply toreduce contact between students” McIver said.
She also said driver training that includes in-building instruction would not be permitted.
Kaylee followed up with a conversation from the previous board meeting regarding school nutrition programs. Hahn had said at a past meeting that work was being done to maintain these programs such as Food For Kids but they wouldneed to be modified because visitors are not allowed in schoolbuildings.
“We want to kind of keep that open to grab-and-go [food] situations” Hahnreplied. “And I know we have a couple of our senior team looking in with our community people to keep that going. And we intend to do that.”
Trays or bins of packaged food items or whole pieces of fruit will be available to students.
At the end of the meeting trustees had a discussion about the waythe ministry had rolled out the back-to-school plans. Concerns wereraised by some trustees that funding was not adequate for the challenges ahead that the ministry hadn’t taken feedback from school boards andthat parents didn’t realize decisions about class sizes were made by the province not by the board. The issue of class size full buses andphysical distancing was again raised.