Northern and rural school boards grapple with back-to-school plan


Sprawling school boards across northern and rural Ontario are working to interpret the province’s back-to-school plan for small communities, saying they don’t yet have all the answers to the questions they parents arise.

Catherine Shedden, spokesperson for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, said she had answered parents’ questions about COVID-19 outbreak protocols and led students to different schools.

But with a month before school resumed, she said those questions remained unanswered – and kept piling up given the unprecedented nature of the situation.

“We keep having people saying, ‘Oh, have you thought about that?’ I’m like, “No, we didn’t,” Shedden said. “It’s really an ongoing exercise. ”

In its plan released last week, the education ministry said elementary students will return to school full-time in September, with their usual class sizes. To curb the spread of the new coronavirus, elementary school students would not be allowed to mix with other classes.

High school students in all but 24 school boards must also return to class full time. These 24 tips will see students attending only half the time, while distance education for the other half.

Masks will be compulsory for students in Grades 4 to 12 and will be encouraged for younger ones.

The province leaves it to parents to decide whether to send their children to school for the term or to opt for distance learning, as was done for the latter part of the last school year.

Shedden said it was difficult to develop a detailed plan without further guidance from the province and public health officials, something the council is still waiting for.

The board must also hear from parents on whether they will send their children back to class.

Once that happens, she says, they’ll be able to tackle one of the biggest problems: the bus.

Like other school boards outside major urban centers, the Trillium Lakelands District Board covers a large swath of land: approximately 11,500 square kilometers south of Kawartha Lakes to Huntsville.

There are 16,000 students and among them, Sheddon said, 15,000 are bused.

The board also operates buses for “co-terminus” boards – Catholic school boards that cover the same ground.

This means that students from different schools are sometimes on the same bus – something the board tries to understand as it seeks to minimize contact between students of different cohorts.

Things won’t be much better if parents choose to drive their children to school, Shedden said.

“We don’t have the infrastructure in place for many parents to come by car to drop off their children,” she said. If children are not transported by bus, it could result in a large line of cars waiting to drop children off.

More than a thousand kilometers away, the Keewatin Patricia District School Board is grappling with many of the same questions.

Kim Douglas, president of the local elementary teachers’ union, said she received more details on Thursday of her school board’s plans.

“When I attended this meeting, I knew it would be semi-good news,” she said. “And if the government is able to provide even more funding, we will feel even more confident, but we have no control over that. ”

She said her school board plans to stagger bus and departure times to minimize contact between students from different schools.

And while some teachers on her board – particularly French teachers – teach in different schools throughout the day, she said the board is keen to mitigate the risks as well. These teachers will only teach in one class per school in order to minimize the number of students with whom they will come into contact.

The Keewatin Patricia District Council is in a better position than some of the others because their schools are older and have larger classrooms. Many schools have small classes due to the scarcity of populations.

Douglas said she was reassured by the council’s plan and that she hopes the parents will be too.

“There is no council in Ontario that wants to be the council that brings COVID into a community,” said Douglas. “And our board of directors certainly doesn’t want that to happen. Their point of view is: a safe reintegration for students and staff.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 7, 2020.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here