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LDSB ‘well positioned’ to open schools safely

As a community, we must do our utmost to ensure our schools remain safe and open.”
— Krisha Burra, LDSB Director of Education

The Limestone District School Board (LDSB) office on Portsmouth Avenue in Kingston. Kingstonist file photo.

*CORRECTION: This article states that “Patty Gollogly, Associate Superintendent of Education, said KFL&A Public Health reported 76 per cent of eligible students have had the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 61 per cent are fully vaccinated.” While it is true that Gollogly did state those numbers during the meeting, more up-to-date data relayed by the LDSB after publication and contained within one of the reports to the Board as part of the meeting reflects different numbers.
According to the LDSB, 79.8 per cent of students aged 12-17 have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 67.2. per cent of those students are fully vaccinated (as of Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021).

With COVID-19 vaccination mandates for all staff, over 60 per cent of students double-vaccinated, continued masking for all students from Grades 1-12, and new HEPA ventilation systems for classrooms, the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) is “well positioned to open schools safely,” according to Krisha Burra, Director of Education.

LDSB Director of Education Krisha Burra. Screenshot by Yona Harvey

“It is hard to believe that school will begin in just under two weeks as we enter the third school year impacted by the COVID pandemic,” Burra reported at the LDSB board meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.

“While there is the usual excitement for all students, families, and staff, we are cautiously optimistic that we will have a better school year than experienced during the past 18 months.”

As staff continue to refine plans with schools opening on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, Burra noted that there are still a few items awaiting confirmation from the Ministry of Education and Public Health.

“Remaining flexible will continue to be critical,” Burra said.

A new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page has been launched on the LDSB website, which will be updated on a regular basis, as well as a family quick reference guide to be released later this week to help prepare families and students to go back to school.

Staff have also had the opportunity to participate voluntarily in professional learning over the last few days. Sessions focused on topics such as creating more equitable outcome for students, anti-Black racism resources, empowering students in math, and student mental health.

“The best indicator of the health of our schools is the health of the community. As a community, we must do our utmost to ensure our schools remain safe and open. 

“Schools provide more than learning… [they provide] social development, community connections, and provide regular routine,” Burra said in his report.

Vaccinations

LDSB Superintendent of Human Resources, Susan McWilliams, reported that “all staff must submit formal attestation (proof of vaccination) by September 7. Individuals who cannot be vaccinated must participate in a Ministry of Education education session, [and will be] required to be tested once a week.”

The vaccination mandate not only applies to staff, but to all volunteers, bus drivers, third party contractors, and all who provide service to the schools.

Patty Gollogly, Associate Superintendent of Education, said KFL&A Public Health reported 76 per cent of eligible students have had the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 61 per cent are fully vaccinated. (*Please see correction above)

Strategic mobile vaccination units will be available in schools, and the Board will ensure that the school day is not interrupted while the clinics are in use. It should be noted that any individual 12 years of age or older may get vaccinated without the consent of parents. 

To ensure parents are aware of this, Burra said that “we will be advising families there are (immunization) clinics in the schools. Student vaccines are covered by the Immunization Act.”

HEPA filtration

LDSB Manager of Facility Services, Dave Fowler, demonstrating the touchless capability of the HEPA filters to be used in classrooms this fall. Screengrab by Yona Harvey

With over 1,100 classrooms in the district, each measuring approximately 750 square feet, LDSB is striving to ensure students are safe within each classroom. 

Funding of $49,000 has been received, and 820 HEPA filtration units, all Canadian-made, are currently being installed in schools without mechanically supplied and filtered fresh air. 

“Not every school will receive HEPA units,” said Craig Young, Superintendent of Business. 

The air filtration units — to be used in classrooms, administration spaces, libraries and gymnasiums — look like “white robots”, have variable speeds, require disposable filters that last a full year, and can be locked to ensure students can’t tamper with controls.

Each unit was purchased at a discounted price of $1,000 each, although they retail for over $2,500. The board has purchased extra units as back-up, and 30 units will be supplied and installed in gymnasiums.

“Contractors are working hard to correct all deficiencies before school starts up,” Young said. 

The location of the air filtration units in a classroom are critical, and the exhaust blows air straight up, to ensure “we’re not blowing air across students. Masking is still the most effective means of control,” Young added.

Kindergarten classrooms are mandated to get a unit regardless of whether or not they have a mechanically-supplied fresh air filtered room, due to kindergarteners not being required to wear masks inside the classroom.

All students from grades one through 12 have to wear and provide their own masks inside the school, with the school board providing extra masks as back-up. Medical masks are provided by the school board for all employees. N95 masks are not recommended for use in schools.

Virtual School registration deadline

“The elementary virtual school planning and organization is well underway,” said Stephanie Sartor, Associate Superintendent of Education. 

“The school organization remains at eight classes, all with split grades. Once registration closes and classes are formed, families will receive information such as technology pickup,” Sartor added. 

Associate Superintendent Steve Hedderson reported that 141 students were registered for secondary virtual school, with registration closing on Thursday, Aug. 26.

“After that, those on the waitlist will be considered for entry on November 15,” Hedderson said.

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