With in-person learning set to resume on Jan. 17, Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) is working to implement a number of measures to improve safety amidst the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We continue to maintain the strong belief that learning face-to-face at school with peers and staff is critical to student mental health, well-being, and social development,” said Jamie Pettit, communications officer for BWDSB.
The return comes after the Jan. 12 announcement by Ontario’s minister of education Stephen Lecce, who maintained the importance of in-person learning for students and announced a number of safety measures set for implementation when in-person school resumes.
“We believe so strongly the children need to be in school,” Lecce said. “Ontario’s plan to open and protect schools is focused on deploying millions of rapid tests to our schools and our childcare centres, enhancing ventilation and high-quality PPE, along with increasing access to vaccines for both children on a voluntary basis, and staff.”
Here are some of the measures that will be implemented for BWDSB as kids return to school:
- Students have been requested to complete a rapid antigen test prior to attending school on Monday, provided they have tests remaining.
- Students will have to confirm daily that they have completed a COVID-19 assessment.
- BWDSB will be installing 32 additional HEPA air filter systems across its 43 schools, although the school board said that its air filtration already surpasses ministry expectations
- The school board is looking into implementing in-school vaccination clinics for students and staff; students will require parental consent prior to vaccination
- Enhanced PPE will be made available, including N95 masks for staff, and three-ply masks for students
Despite increased measures, Ontario schools will not notify the public of case counts, but if absenteeism reaches a level 30 per cent above its baseline, health officials and the public will be notified.
Pettit said that while N95 and three-ply masks will be available on Monday, the school board is still waiting on other supplies.
“Additional rapid antigen tests for students and staff will be provided in the near future,” he said. “In terms of ventilation, 32 additional HEPA units are expected this month from the Ministry of Education.”
Staffing shortages may impact BWDSB schools’ ability to stay open, but Pettit said the school board will exercise all of its options to keep schools staffed and open.
“At this time, we face a potential challenge related to staffing shortages that may arise due to isolation requirements,” he said. “This would impact our school operations and possibly result in occasional short-term school closures. Closing schools would be a last resort, however, we must be prepared and plan accordingly. “
“Staffing shortages are a growing issue predating the pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, which may be difficult to counteract," said Pettit. "We will be hosting teacher candidates on their practicum placements this spring. If they have their interim certificates from the Ontario College of Teachers, they will be eligible for both daily and long-term occasional work.”
In-school vaccination clinics are being investigated, but Pettit gave no specific timeline for their implementation.
“We are investigating school-based vaccine clinics with Grey Bruce Public Health, and will inform families when more details are available,” he said. “Any clinics would be voluntary and require parental consent for those who are unable to consent on their own behalf.”