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Local boards readying as majority of students opt for in-class learning

Photo by Caleb Oquendo

Kingston’s two largest school boards report that 90 per cent of their students will return for in-class learning this fall.

Combined, Limestone District School Board (LDSB) and Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB) serve more than 30,0000 students in the Kingston area. Both boards issued online surveys to families this summer, requesting they opt-in to remote delivery of classes if required. The results are in, and approximately 11 per cent of ALCDSB and 10 per cent of LDSB students are planning to learn from home.

LDSB’s survey response was due on Wednesday, Aug. 19, with a board meeting held the following evening. ALCDSB extended the deadline of their survey to Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020, citing parental requests for more time to make decisions.

“ALCDSB would like to thank all families for their patience and understanding during this time,” reads the preamble to the school reopening plans on their website. “Information is constantly evolving and we are committed to providing our community with up-to-date information as it becomes available.”

While parents and school staff continue to press for details, LDSB Director Krishna Burra said his board is also offering the best information they can as it becomes available.

“We have to be comfortable with navigating the unknown right now and working through challenges when we’re still waiting for answers or the best direction possible,” Burra told the Kingstonist Monday morning.

Absenteeism for symptomatic students & teachers

One item still outstanding from the Ministry of Education (MOE) is outbreak protocol, Burra said, with specific guidance on how to navigate a situation with active cases in the region.

LDSB staff did indicate at last Thusrday’s meeting that home-grown plans exist to shift students to remote learning if required, but will be determined on case-by-case basis.

Under any circumstances, Burra said students and staff are required to self-screen daily for COVID-19 symptoms before attending school.

“Very clearly, the screening protocol that families and staff are supposed to do prior to going to work says that, if there are any of these symptoms, you do need to remain at home and then pursue potential medical care after that,” he said.

“The focus is on prevention and trying to make sure that we’re erring on the side of caution,” he added, acknowledging that this may lead to higher rates of absenteeism for staff and students alike.

“If people are exhibiting some of these symptoms, they should not be going to school and potentially spreading those symptoms to other students or staff in the process,” he said.

Many parents have raised questions about safety protocols around substitute teachers, in the event of a teacher missing class. LDSB has previously confirmed to the Kingstonist that itinerant and occasional teachers will continue to move between sites, following health and safety protocols as outlined by public health.

“I think it’s really important to emphasize information that Public Health has shared previously,” Burra added. “If people are continuing to follow Public Health guidelines in terms of masking and social distancing, and we are not gathering in larger numbers, Public Health anticipates a decrease in a spread of a range of bacterial and viral infections this fall and this winter, because of the precautions that are in place for COVID-19.

“Of course that goes for respiratory etiquette as well as hand hygiene,” he continued. “We’re going to have to navigate this, and that is just one more challenge on the list.”

As the Kingston area has been deemed ‘non-designated’ under the Provincial school reopening protocols, classrooms will be full capacity, but cohorted to reduce interaction with other students or staff within schools.

According to a staff report presented at last Thursday’s LDSB meeting, it would cost $49.5 M to hire the additional staff required to establish a 15 to one student-teacher ratio across the board. “This does not include costs for transportation, space rental and other expenses. This far exceeds our reserve amount,” LDSB reported.

LDSB Director Krishna Burra. Photo: Samantha Butler-Hassan.

Staggered start to the school year

Both boards will receive students back to school in phases, meaning different schools and grades will start some time between Thursday, Sep. 3, and Friday, Sep 11, 2020. ALCDSB has published the details of their staggered start dates according to grade in their Return to School Plan.

LDSB said parents can also expect those details early this week. “Because staggered entry plans will vary based on individual school contexts, schools will communicate their staggered entry plan directly to families using our Communicate broadcast system, and other school communication tools,” said a statement on their website.

Burra said the primary purpose of a staggered start date is to reduce the numbers of students coming into the school for the first few days.

“Given students have not been in school now over five months, it provides an opportunity to focus on new routines, understand the schedule, but also to have some focus with smaller numbers on health and safety, respiratory etiquette, hand hygiene, masking,” he said. “And, it allows teachers to work with a smaller number of students, to make sure they are comfortable prior to having all of the students back in class.”

Burra confirmed that a small proportion of teachers and staff from LDSB had requested leaves of absence or remote accommodation for health reasons.

“Those will continue to be processed in the next couple of days as we prepare for opening towards the end of next week,” he said. “Each one of those is case by case and human resources will have to work through those with the information provided by the employees.”

The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. Photo by Lucas Mulder.

Information on remote learning

ALCDSB has shared The Ministry’s guidelines on Daily Minimum Synchronous Learning Time Requirements as part of their return to school plan. This is number of minutes required for online, real-time learning with classmates, in addition to asynchronous learning time. According to the Ministry:

  • For Kindergarten: 180 minutes
  • Grades 1 to 3: 225 minutes
  • Grades 4 to 8: 225 minutes
  • Grades 9 to 12 : The higher of 60 minutes for each 75-minute class period** or 225 minutes per day for a full course schedule (** The synchronous learning time requirement for any period that is not 75 minutes should be adjusted to reflect this ratio.)

The details LDSB provided to parents on remote learning in their request for opt-in were limited, however they have indicated that parents will have the opportunity to switch between remote to in-class learning at designated points in the year. For elementary students, that is by Monday, Sep. 14, and for Secondary Students, by the end of the first quadmester in late October, 2020.

Parents should also note that remote learning and home schooling are not the same.

“Home Schooling is an option when the curriculum is delivered solely by the parent/guardian without school or Board support. Students are not connected to a school or the school board,” noted ALDSCB Return to School plans. The process to move to home school and more information can be found on the Ministry of Education’s website.

Parents of children under six can also be aware that kindergarten is not mandatory in Ontario, should neither in-class, remote online learning or homeschooling work for their families. LDSB has also confirmed this to the Kingstonist.

Burra calls for ‘collective effort’ to keep risks low

As more details come together, Burra urges all Kingstonians to continue to adhere to Public Health protocols to help keep the community risk for COVID-19 low.

“The big message is that this year is going to be a bit unusual in terms of the start of the year,” he said. “The absolutely best conditions, according to medical experts, in terms of opening schools and keeping schools safe, is that there are either no cases or a very low number of cases and very low community spread.”

“Up to this point, our area has been extremely fortunate,” he said. “If people are continuing to follow those safety protocols, then that creates those ideal conditions to continue with school and keep everyone healthy. It’s also going to require a collective effort on the part of families, students and staff to ensure that we are following the different strategies to maximize safety and reduce risk as we move into the fall.”

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Samantha Butler-Hassan

Samantha Butler-Hassan is a staff writer and life-long Kingston resident. She is a news junkie and mom who loves reading and exploring the community. This article has been made possible with the support of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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