By Sue Tiffin
More than 16,000 students were re-registered for school in September by a June 1 deadline, despite few details being known about what school will look like in the 2021-2022 year.
TLDSB director Wes Hahn said that was a “great turnout” during a recent board of trustees meeting of Trillium Lakelands District School Board, held virtually on June 8.
Of those students, approximately 15,600 are registered for in-person (or “brick and mortar”) school, which Hahn said “is really great for us,” while almost 700 in total elementary and secondary students are registered for at-home online learning compared to almost 2,500 last year.
“So, obviously we’ve had quite a shift moving back in, and there’s still a number of families that have chosen to stay in learn-at-home, and we’re providing that opportunity for sure,” said Hahn.
Secondary school shifts to quadmester schedule
In secondary schools, there will be some changes compared to this year, though in-school class cohorts, and possibly mask wearing will be in place still.
Of students registered for secondary school, 293 have opted for online learning. Hahn said both online learners and brick and mortar learners in the secondary school system will learn based on the quadmester system, moving students from this year’s octomester system – one subject a day – to the quadmester system – two subjects a day. Students will have two quadmesters per semester, with two semesters in the year.
“The reason we’re moving toward this model after working with the schools and the principals and the teachers is, moving from our octomester to our quadmester there is quite a bit of similarity and flow into this – we wanted to create [as] minimal disruption as we could,” said Hahn. “It was a model that was recommended by the ministry, and we felt it was one we could certainly work with.”
Hahn said it isn’t the week on, week off model, but rather two subjects a day, morning and afternoon. As schedules and timetables are further developed, Hahn said this information would be shared with the public and families of students.
Later in the meeting, student trustee Ryder Lytle asked why a quadmester would be in place in the new year, rather than an octomester as has been in place this year, and what might have caused the change in scheduling.
Hahn said that in the previous September there was “really strong cohorting messaging from the ministry,” that led the school board to opt for the octomester.
“We couldn’t have, I believe, more than 50 to 100 contacts per day,” said Hahn, noting that boards that did move into a quadmester in September had to conduct school by way of a one-week-on, and one-week-off schedule, “which we weren’t really big fans of here.”
From both a public health and ministry perspective, moving into the new school year, cohorting has been relaxed, said Hahn, and a quadmester was allowed in the new year.
At-home elementary students connected in new school year to local school
Hahn said there are 391 students registered for learn-at-home. Prior to registration the school board told parents that students who did not register for learn-at-home by June 1 would not have the option later to do so. Parents were told that online school would look different from this year, but further details were not known prior to registration.
At the board meeting, Hahn said, “Again, when we talk about these learn-at-home numbers, I think it’s important to remember that we have a number of months to go, before we actually return back in September, and we do know that things will look very, very different in August and September with the vaccine roll-out and number of cases that are reducing. So we do expect that there will be even more changes to come back into our system, but at this point in time there’s 391 registered for learn-at-home.”
In elementary school in the new year, he said in-person learning would look very similar during the 2021-2022 school year as it did during the past school year, with likely similar public health measures in place.
While the learn-at-home model would be similar, Hahn said, with a teacher and students in a synchronous, virtual environment, the difference would be that rather than using a separate learn-at-home school model as was done in this past year, the classes developed will instead be attached to the student’s home school, and the principal of that school will support teachers, students, parents/guardians of the specific at-home classes despite the students living in various parts of the school board’s district.
“I still have to say we have a number of weeks to go before we finalize all the details,” said Hahn.
Hahn said there are “a number of positives on the COVID front,” as reported in the news.
“We know that vaccines are rolling [out] quite quickly, and that there is an expectation that much of the population will be moving into their second vaccination if they choose to do that, including our teaching staff and now with the roll-out of our student population, 12 to 17-year-olds – we’re going to have many of our staff and students vaccinated returning back in September,” he said. “That is having a dramatic impact and it’s going to continue having an impact as we move across the summer.”
Hahn said September will look different, with a number of families returning to brick and mortar learning, and said he thinks “things will start to open up.”
“How open will it be? I know the question will be, will we ever get back in the next following year into some kind of normal semester-kind of environment in secondary? There certainly is a potential for things to start to work back into normal, but we will have to see how the fall unveils itself and see where we are with cases in the province, but [it’s] looking positive.”
The school board has received both federal and provincial funding to enhance health and safety features in buildings, including ventilation upgrades. Hahn said upgrades regarding filters in ventilation systems and a trial project with duct sealing in a number of schools – which has increased air flow and decreased electrical and heating costs – are in place.
“There are lots of things we’re doing with that funding, and that team is working in behind-the-scenes to make sure they roll out.”
Hahn said they have looked at certain HVAC systems within the board, and upgrades have happened in those that required the upgrades.
“So again, we know that’s an important factor to the health and safety of our staff and students and we’ll continue with that as we move forward into September, and onward.”
Graduation celebrations will remain virtual
On June 2 when Premier Doug Ford announced that in-person learning at schools would not be resuming, after schools were closed in April during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, he also encouraged schools to hold in-person graduation ceremonies outdoors for all grades, giving students an opportunity to see each other prior to the end of the school year.
TLDSB schools had already been planning for weeks, and months even, said Hahn, to organize graduation ceremonies following public health guidelines and would be moving forward with virtual ceremonies.
“We know that announcement came late, from the government, and as that was happening, we were consulting with public health along the way, and received the recommendation that due to the public health protocols at the time, should remain in virtual environments and not move forward with in-person because it would not be safe to do so,” said Hahn.
He said that he recognizes that might be disappointing for families and staff. Schools will be communicating with parents about how students can pick up their items from school at the end of the year, at which point there will be an opportunity to say goodbye to staff and possibly greet friends.