The Lambton Kent District School Board released its detailed reopening plans Thursday, a 45-page document outlining what to expect when elementary and secondary students return to class Sept. 8.
“This plan will help parents understand what the school day will look like, what mitigation we have in place to reduce risk, as well as more information about the at-home model,” LKDSB board director John Howitt told The Journal.
Families within the board had previously been given until Aug. 6 to decide if they’ll be sending kids back to the classroom, or learning from home. About 75% of the board’s 13,000-plus families responded, with 90% indicating their intent to return for face-to-face learning.
Those results helped finalize details of the board’s reopening plan, Howitt said, noting that families will now have until Aug. 28 to decide, or change their original decision.
After that, families will have limited opportunities within the school year to switch from electronic to in-classroom instruction.
“It’s important for parents to understand that, based on the number of students that are coming to school face-to-face, and the number who are at home, we may have to reorganize the classes and the class load accordingly,” he said. “And that goes both ways because the teachers doing the online learning for the students at home will have a class size as well; they can’t take on an infinite number of students.”
Howitt said the board is using reserve funds to reduce elementary school class sizes to below the regulations and collective agreement expectations.
The document covers everything from transportation to screening, hand hygiene, masking, physical distancing, cleaning and scheduling, as well as details about the learn-from-home model.
In elementary schools, students in Junior Kindergarten will have a delayed start on Sept. 14.
Once students arrive to school in the morning, they’ll head straight to the classrooms, Howitt said.
“In elementary schools, they’ll pretty much stay in the same classroom all day, eat lunch there, maybe go to the gym or outside for phys-ed. There might be some resource room visits but those are all tracked and guided to stay within the cohort.”
In secondary schools, timetables will be emailed directly to students. Upon arrival at school, students will go directly to their Period A class, and will not be able to access lockers.
They’ll follow a model with one course in the morning, and one in the afternoon, Howitt said.
“So they’ll transition after eating lunch in the morning room, to the afternoon class. They’ll have four semesters of two courses, instead of two semesters of four courses.”
The online learning model, Howitt said, will expand beyond the core subjects of literacy and math — which were the focus in the spring — to include the full curriculum.
“We will very likely have staff dedicated to the online learning; and that might mean students in the same grade from multiple schools coming together,” he said, adding that students learning from home won’t likely have the same teacher as their peers in their respective classrooms.
St. Clair Catholic School Board director Deb Crawford told The Journal that its ‘Safe Return to School Framework’ will be posted online Friday, and that a more comprehensive operational plan is currently under review.
“Parents are being advised that they have until August 28 to confirm their decision whether to choose in-person classroom learning or online teacher-led learning,” she noted.
Both French language school boards have posted detailed school reopening plans on their respective websites.
Meanwhile, a joint letter from Dr. Sudit Ranade and Dr. David Colby, the medical officers of health for Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent, was sent to families across the region this week, stressing that the decision to send kids to school in-person, “needs to be one that works for you and your family.”
“There is no risk-free situation,” the letter stated, noting that kids with underlying medical conditions may be more at risk, and highlighting the possibility of infecting vulnerable family members at home. “Sending your child to school may increase the risk of getting COVID-19. Keeping your child at home may increase the risk of interrupting their social and developmental wellbeing.”
They noted that while there are no specific thresholds that define when a school should be closed, public health and school board officials will work together to decide the ongoing status of schools, and enforce protective measures including screening, isolation, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning measures, cohorting (keeping groups together) and the use of face coverings.
Late last month the province announced its official plan for the Sept. 8 return to school, including the full reopening of all publicly funded elementary schools five days a week; allowing most secondary schools to reopen with an adapted model, with those in lower risk communities reopening five days a week; and offering a choice for in-class or online learning.
Students, teachers and school staff must self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 before leaving home, students in grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors (kindergarten to grade 3 encouraged, but not required); and school-based staff in regular close contact with students will be provided with appropriate PPE, according to the Ministry of Education.
“The government’s return to school plan is seriously flawed for public elementary schools,” said Laurel Liddicoat-Newton, President of the Lambton Kent Elementary Teachers’ Federation. “It is clear that restaurants, grocery stores and gyms will have more safety restrictions in place than elementary schools given the insufficient funding allocated in the plan.”
Liddicoat-Newton said she’s hearing from teachers who are worried about the responsibility of ensuring social distancing within their classrooms, especially in younger grades.
“Teachers are also very concerned about contracting or taking home and spreading Covid-19 from their workplace,” she added. “The emotional stress for all education workers and students and their families has been overwhelming throughout this crisis and well into the summer.”