When students start boarding school buses in September, not all of them will be onboard on the first day.
On Thursday afternoon, the Simcoe County District School Board released more details on what back-to-school will look like now that parent survey results are in, providing a clearer picture of what parents can expect for their kids.
“I know the decision has been a difficult one and parents have grappled with the mental well-being of their child,” said Dawn Stephens, superintendent of education with the public board. “We take the advice of the medical professionals, and we are (putting in place) a multitude of health measures: cohorting, masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, hand sanitizer in all of our classrooms. We are really working hard to make the school environment as safe as we can.”
Stephens addressed the concern that physical distancing will not be possible in some classrooms.
“Physical distancing is one of many measures put in place in order to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus,” she said. “Physical distancing on top of masking, on top of hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, on top of staggering entry and exiting. All of those things combined will help reduce the risk.”
“In some spaces, we may not have two metres. It’s the layering of all the public health measures that really support the safe return to school,” she said.
According to a survey sent out by the school board earlier this month, about 85 per cent of students are returning to in-class lessons this year.
Survey responses were submitted for 86 per cent of students, which represents approximately 22,663 parent/guardian participants and accounts for approximately 43,060 students.
Preliminary results show that 15 per cent of students will participate in remote learning, which accounts for about 6,500 students.
“We are still attempting to contact parents who have not yet completed the survey,” said Stephens. “If we are unable to get a response, we are assuming they are returning for in-person learning.”
The public board has not yet released survey results for busing.
Stephens said the choices parents have made now are locked in until February, and will only be modified based on the advice of public health, or in the event of an outbreak.
“Whichever option they’ve chosen, they must stay with it. All of the teachers are creating a digital classroom to go along with their in-person classroom. That way... if parents notice there are signs of COVID, they can keep them home and go onto the digital classroom to keep up with the class,” said Stephens.
The board also released information on Thursday about their staggered re-entry plan for students participating in the in-class option.
For elementary students, students with surnames starting with A-G will start on Sept. 8. Students with surnames H-O will join students with the surnames A-G in attending Wednesday, Sept. 9, and on Sept. 10, all remaining elementary students will be required in class. Junior kindergarten students will all start on Sept. 10.
“We wanted to give an opportunity for every class to have a smaller number of students start and build every day until it’s at full capacity. We want to see how all these (new protocols) are working and maybe make changes and look at a different direction,” said Stephens. “This also gives families the opportunity to start together.”
“It will also help students and staff get used to the new protocols and take a look at how things are working... to really support our students and families in the transition,” she added.
In secondary schools, Grade 9 students will start on Sept. 8. Grade 10 students will start on Sept. 9, and all other secondary grades will start Sept. 10.
For the remote learning option, Stephens said the board has the option of setting up a virtual school and clustering students, although said they haven’t made a final determination.
“We really want to keep our students attached to their home school. That’s really our intention,” said Stephens.
As part of the online survey, Stephens said parents who were choosing the remote learning option were asked if children would need to be provided with equipment. Now that the survey is complete, she said families who identified they needed equipment will be contacted by the school board to make arrangements.
She said students enrolled in the remote learning option will be contacted in the first two weeks in September, however, will not be starting classes until Sept. 21.
During a stop in Oro-Medonte Township on Thursday morning, Premier Doug Ford said details on health guidelines for back-to-school would be announced by the province on Friday. When asked if that would be enough time for school boards to implement by Sept. 8, Stephens said that was one of the last pieces of information school boards were waiting on.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting on. The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit has also been waiting on the provincial outbreak protocol. They will be the leads on outbreak protocols,” said Stephens. “We will work in conjunction with them if there is an outbreak at a school.”