Questions remain as schools prepare for fall reopening

Kingstonist file photo

Limestone District School Board, the largest of four Kingston-area boards, is finalizing its reopening plans as September draws near.

“We anticipate additional information coming our way next week from our medical health partners,” said Jane Douglas-Charanduk, Communications Specialist for LDSB. “By then, we may be able to provide an update to families first and follow up.”

The provincial government released fall reopening plans on Thursday, Jul. 30. The plan imposes guidelines but few hard restrictions, with elementary students in school in-person, five days per week across the province.

Because Kingston has been identified as a lower-risk community, LDSB secondary school students in Grades 9 to 12 will also attend school in-person, five days a week, with an emphasis on cohorting.

The Ministry advises maintaining consistent, smaller group of students together as much as possible. Attendance is voluntary, and boards are required to offer remote education options for those who do not wish to return to the classroom. Masks are mandatory from grades 4-12, and cohorts should be no more than 15 people, including educators.

Without additional classroom space, significantly more teachers, or a large proportion of students choosing to learn from home, it is unclear how boards will consistently achieve this. Toronto Public Health raised concerns over the plans this week in a letter to the Minister of Education, saying the province has not done enough to reduce class sizes.

Meanwhile, Steven Del Duca, Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, said the plans will support the creation of only five new teaching positions in Kingston.

Del Duca said he doesn’t believe this will be enough to safely reopen schools. “The SickKids’ report, released last week, makes it clear that a proper plan must include smaller class sizes and a significant amount of new custodians and cleaning staff,” Del Duca said.

Del Duca also noted that the government’s plan will create 13 new caretaker positions in Kingston, or roughly one for every eight schools.

“Doug Ford’s half-baked plan to reopen schools is nothing short of a catastrophe for parents, students, and teachers” Del Duca said. “The plan falls short of even the basic standards set out by Sick Kids and blatantly ignores recommendations from school boards, teachers, education workers, healthcare associations, and parents.”

Limestone students must opt-in for remote learning in August

Krishna Burra, incoming Director of the Limestone District School Board, released a public statement on Jul 30 following the Provincial announcement.

Burra indicated that the province has provided additional funding to help schools mitigate the risks of COVID-19. The LDSB’s fall re-opening FAQ page indicates plans to increase cleaning and sanitization for classrooms, shared school equipment and buses. Lockers will not be permitted for use, and students are asked to keep their belongings with them at their desks.

LDSB students are asked to complete a daily self-screening before coming to school, and to stay home if they feel unwell. There will be no screening, temperature checks or COVID-19 tests performed at LDSB schools.

Notably, LDSB says it will not necessarily be able to accommodate students moving between remote and classroom learning through out the year.

“School staffing is funded and completed based on student numbers, so choosing to move from one mode of learning to another is complicated,” said the board’s website. “Depending on the number of students who opt out of returning to school, flexibility to move from remote to in-person school may be dependent on space availability and other factors.”

Instead, they are asked families to opt-in to remote learning in late August, if they don’t want to return to classroom learning. They’ve also noted that, in the event of COVID-19 resurgence in the area, all students may need to learn from home.

“As always, our plans are based on the advice, guidance and directives of provincial and local public health officials, and in consultation with community, education, and labour partners,” Burra said. “If circumstances change, and we experience an increase in regional cases across KFL&A, we may need to adjust our model.”

Samantha Butler-Hassan, Local Journalism Initiative

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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