UCDSB releases back-to-school plan; Aug. 20 deadline for parents to indicate if children returning to classroom

North Dundas District High School. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

EASTERN ONTARIO — Though many questions remain unanswered, the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) has just released its plan for reopening schools in September — with full-day, on-site instruction available to all students, including high schoolers.

No surprise, the details present an educational landscape far different from the one students left with the arrival of the pandemic last March, with a host of new rules put in place to ward off the virus that causes COVID-19. For starters, students of all ages will be grouped into cohorts, a move prompting a total remake of the daily schedule at the secondary level. High school students will find themselves taking just two classes every nine weeks — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — under a new “quadmester” system intended to reduce contact among students and staff.

Primary students will be cohorted with one class and remain in the same room. Intermingling of core French and French Immersion students will also cease during the pandemic, says the UCDSB.

To prevent spread of the virus, water fountains will be shut off, janitors will perform more deep cleanings of school facilities, and both students and staff will cleanse their hands every time they re-enter school buildings. And, of course, there will be mandatory masks, with only students younger than Grade 4 allowed to opt out of that requirement by default. Masks won’t be taken outside for recess, and teachers are to ensure physical distancing is observed as children prepare to exit the building. Each cohort will play exclusively within their own group at recess.

Sports will be curtailed, with inter-school competition eliminated entirely. Some intramural sports will be permitted “if cohorting requirements can be maintained and physical distancing is possible,” says the board. The involved facilities must be cleaned between user groups.

Parents uncomfortable with all of this retain the option of keeping their children home for online, remote learning through the UCDSB. The board began a registration survey of parents this week, and a deadline of Aug. 20 applies. Once a family has committed to one option or the other — remote learning or in-school attendance — switching to the other option will only be possible “at specific admission intervals.” In the case of high school students, the chance to switch will only happen at the beginning of a new quadmester.

Despite the release of the plan, South Stormont Councillor Jennifer MacIsaac says “there are still so many things that parents/caregivers still don’t know” — barely three weeks out from the planned Sept. 4 return to classrooms.

Questions highlighted by MacIsaac in a Facebook post today include:

• What building will my child go to school in?
• What hours of the day will my child be able to go to school in person?
• Will my child be able to ride the bus?
• Will they make my child walk to school now because there aren’t enough seats due to distancing?
• Will my children’s school boundary change?
• What does lunch time look like?
• Will my children be permitted recess?
• Will my children be able to participate in physical education, music and shops?
• Will French Immersion still be offered?
• What does the online curriculum look like?
• How many hours per day will my child have to work at a computer for the virtual option?
• Will my child be able to obtain the credits they need to graduate this year?
• If I choose virtual learning for my child, can I change my mind if it doesn’t work out?
• What extra measures are being undertaken to clean and sanitize our schools?
• Are schools adequately staffed for having to adhere to COVID-19 safety measures?
• How are my children’s teachers feeling about the “back to school plan”?
• How will school personnel deal with a child who demonstrates symptoms of COVID-19 during the school day?

See the UCDSB plan, below. 
As the region prepares for the reopening of school classrooms in September, Eastern Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis acknowledges meeting regularly with local school boards on those plans. In the Aug. 13 clip below, the doctor also highlights a newly announced $500-million provincial expenditure on school ventilation and remote-learning program improvements with the reopening of classrooms just weeks away. He also confirms that the Eastern Ontario Health Unit will be hiring nine new school nurses — out of its share of funding for 500 public health nurses earlier announced by the province in preparation for the return to class.
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