“It is our hope that all students will be in class for the first day of instruction on September 4,” stated John McAllister, chairman for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), in a media release issued Thursday, July 23. “However, if we are told otherwise by the (education) ministry or local health officials that it is not safe to do so, I think the plan we have drafted has put us in a position to still address the learning and mental health needs of our students.”
The UCDSB board and staff met Wednesday, July 22, via teleconference to review the plan for restarting the school year in September. The proposed plan has four options for dealing with student attendance for both elementary and secondary schools, managing classroom sizes and course curriculums, and also dealing with public health safety issues for both students and staff as the provincial government continues with its pandemic recovery plan for Ontario.
The first and preferred option is for all students back in school, five days a week, with “increased health and hygiene measures” available to students and staff to safeguard from potential contagion.
The next two options are for modified “back to school” scenarios for both elementary and secondary students. Each involves staggered scheduling of groups of students for school. Elementary student groups would alternate attend school three days one week and two days another, with distance learning programs set up for students to continue their studies on the days of the week when they are not in school.
The secondary school scenario calls for a four-day cycle of morning school sessions for students, from 8 a.m. to noon. The school day would continue in the afternoon with teachers available to support students through distance-learning programs.
The fourth scenario calls for continuing the distance-learning curriculum format set up during the spring at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario was developed based on input from a district survey of students and parents in May and June of this year.
In anticipation of more reliance on distance learning, the UCDSB has set up digital learning systems for staff and students, providing more staff training over the summer in digital learning, creating a digital learning support team through its T.R. Leger School of Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education, arranging for the purchase of more than 2000 personal computer devices to provide students who may not have one for distance learning, and also find ways to allow students of families without Internet access to be part of a pilot project through the Kajeet hotspot solutions program.
“Our focus as a school district has been to create a plan that is safe for everyone involved,” stated Stephen Sliwa, UCDSB education director. “It is the preference of our district to prepare for a full return of all students to regular classes, five days per week, should it be deemed safe to do so by the local chief medical officers of health. However, should the ministry and local health officials indicate that it is not safe to proceed with Scenario One, our school board has developed a comprehensive plan for an adapted model, and has taken steps to improve our distance learning model, as distance learning is already a reality for many of our secondary and adult learners.”
The UCDSB board approved a motion at the end of its teleconference session to send the complete draft 2020-2021 school year reopening plan to the ministry for review on July 27. Trustees approved a motion to emphasize that Scenario One is the preferred option but that the UCDSB is prepared to follow the alternatives if the ministry and regional health officials do not feel it advisable yet.
The full draft plan is available at http://www.ucdsb.on.ca/u_c_d_s_b_news/UCDSB_school_reopening_plan.