Catholic board asks parents to drive their children to school if possible

EASTERN ONTARIO — The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario’s return-to-school plan is out, and it includes a request that parents drive their children to school “if possible.”

The Catholic plan is broadly similar to that released by the Upper Canada District School Board yesterday. But where the UCDSB offers scant information on busing, offering little more than a link to the website of Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario, the CDSBEO acknowledges that transportation planning is “very challenging” and lays out many details. Both boards are served by the same transportation consortium.

To accommodate a return to school five days per week — the model of reopening chosen by the CDSBEO (as well as the UCDSB) — buses can’t be limited to one student per seat and must “operate close to capacity,” says the board. Consequently, student passengers between Grade 4 and Grade 12 must wear masks while those Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be “encouraged” to don masks on the bus as well. The latter younger group is otherwise exempt from wearing masks at school.

Parents driving their children to and from school are encouraged “to park a block or two away from the school to promote Active School Travel, where possible,” the CDSBEO plan also says, to “help minimize traffic congestion around the immediate school zone.” (‘Active School Travel’ appears to be a buzzword for making kids walk at least a short distance to school for the combined benefits of exercise and reduced vehicular traffic at school entrances  — although the link on the topic in the CDSBEO document doesn’t go to public page on the board website.)

School bus drivers and monitors will wear not only medical-grade masks but face shields as well.

“Students must be assigned a seat on the bus/vehicle and a record of the seating plan should be kept to assist in contact tracing in the case of a student or driver contracting COVID-19,” the CDSBEO plan also says. “Students who live in the same household or are in the same classroom cohort should be seated together. Medical masks and face shields will be provided for school bus drivers and school bus monitors. Eye protection for drivers should not interfere with the safe operation of vehicles and is intended to protect drivers during close contact with students, such as during boarding and exiting. Increased disinfecting protocols for frequently touched surfaces (e.g. handrails, seatbacks) will be in place and carried out at least twice daily. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be available on vehicles. Where possible, the seat directly behind the bus driver should remain empty to maintain physical distancing. Windows should be opened when feasible to increase ventilation (weather permitting).”

CDSBEO Chair Todd Lalonde says his board is “extremely pleased that our draft plan has now been approved by the Ministry of Education.” The plan, “which includes measures for enhanced safety protocols for the return to school, was reviewed by the Board of Trustees on July 29th,” Lalonde points out. “We look forward to welcoming our students back to the classroom on September 4th for those who will be attending in-class instruction. We also look forward to offering robust remote distance learning for students who choose this learning option.”

The CDSBEO does deviate from its public counterpart in some areas as well: At the secondary level, the school day is shortened, with CDSBEO students on premises only from 8:10 a.m. until a quarter past noon. They’re expected to work on courses online upon return home in the afternoon each day. Water fountains will also remain on (while the UCDSB plans to shut them off), although CDSBEO students will be encouraged to only use fountains for filling water bottles.

This article was edited to highlight a couple of differences in the CDSBEO and UCDSB plans.

See the full plan, below.
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