By Sue Tiffin
Prior to heading home for the holidays, students across the province were told to pack their school bags with everything they might need to study at home in case schools didn’t open as planned after the winter break.
At a Dec. 21 press conference, Premier Doug Ford announced a 28-day province-wide lockdown, bumping a Jan. 4 return to in-person learning to Jan. 11 for elementary students and Jan. 25 for secondary students.
Wes Hahn, director of education with Trillium Lakelands District School Board, sent a letter home to families on Dec. 17 noting the school board was preparing for online learning in case the break was extended. A Dec. 21 update from the school board confirmed students currently enrolled in in- person learning will have access to online learning beginning the week of Jan. 4.
“The Ontario government has ordered all publicly funded schools in Ontario to temporarily move to remote learning starting on Jan. 4,” reads the update posted on the TDLSB COVID-19 update webpage. “This means that Trillium Lakelands District School Board elementary schools will be closed for an additional week following the holiday break, with online learning starting on January 4, reopening to in- class learning on January 11. Secondary schools will also remain closed, with online learning starting on January 4, reopening to in-class learning on January 25.”
The last day of school before the winter break for Haliburton County students enrolled in in-person or online learning was Dec. 18 but teachers will reach out to students to prepare for the return to remote learning.
“All students have access to an online classroom using one of the following platforms: Google Classroom, Seesaw or Brightspace,” reads the update on the TLDSB site.
The school day schedule will continue to be followed and curriculum will be delivered via a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning instruction. Classroom teachers will reach out directly to families to ensure your child is ready for online learning on January 4. If you have any questions, or if your child requires access to a device to support their learning, please contact your child’s school directly on January 4.”
Soon after the Dec. 21 press conference, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario published a statement continuing to call on the provincial government to reduce class sizes to ensure two metres of physical distancing; establish mandatory caps on class size and fund improvements to ventilation and air filtration among other calls to action.
“The plan to reopen elementary schools in the midst of a province-wide lockdown doesn’t make sense,” said Sam Hammond, ETFO president. “These new provincial restrictions will not be effective unless every possible action is taken to prevent COVID-19 transmission in elementary schools when they reopen. It’s time to do what is urgently needed, not what is politically convenient.”
“By downplaying the transmission of COVID-19 in elementary schools and refusing to provide the necessary funding, despite having billions of dollars in unallocated contingency funds, the Ford government has proven that they aren’t interested in ensuring all schools are safe. Reopening schools with an underfunded and inequitable virtual learning strategy is not a solution.”
While the ETFO press release notes other provinces announced post-winter break plans weeks ago, Hammond said, “By announcing Ontario’s plans over the holidays, [Minister of Education Stephen] Lecce is once again showing his dis- respect for educators. Had this government made its deci- sion earlier, boards, educators, families and students could have been better prepared for the transition back to virtual learning.”
According to the province’s website detailing data on COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres, as of Dec. 21, a cumulative total of 7, 292 school-related cases of COVID-19 had been reported, 5,103 of those being school- related student cases, 1,094 being school-related staff cases and 1,095 being individuals not identified. As of Dec. 18, 957 schools of 4,828 in the province – about 20 per cent – currently had a reported case, and 22 schools were closed. In licensed child care settings, 1,265 cases of COVID-19 – 685 child cases and 580 staff/provider cases – have been re- ported, with a total of 244 centres, just over 4.5 per cent of centres, currently having a confirmed case.
A message on the province’s COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres website posted on Dec. 22 states that due to the winter break and the remote learning period, school data from Dec. 22 to Jan. 8, 2021 would not be posted, with the site resuming school data updates on Jan. 12, 2021. Child care data will continue to be published on regular business days during the winter break.
According to Sinead Fegan, TLDSB spokesperson, there are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in the TLDSB.
Child care centres will remain open during the lockdown.
On Dec. 22, the provincial government announced the expansion of the Support for Learners program to include secondary school students in a one-time payment of $200 per eligible student. More information will be available at https:// www.ontario.ca/page/get-support-learners in January.
COVID-19 information updates from the school board can be found at www.tldsb.ca/covid-19, or via the board’s social media pages on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TLDSB) or Twitter (@TLDSB).