Advertisement

Grey-Bruce schools prepared to welcome staff, students back

Article content

School officials in Grey-Bruce are confident in the measures they have in place to ensure a safe return to school on Monday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

The Ontario government announced late Wednesday afternoon that seven health unit regions in the province, including Grey-Bruce, had been given the OK to resume in-class learning on Monday. The Bluewater District School Board and Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board will both welcome students and staff back. Before and after school programs will also resume.

“I think we had some really strong protocols and some really good fidelity to our protocols during the first four months of school,” BGCDSB director Gary O’Donnell said Thursday. “I think we will be able to fall right back into our routines and just want to ensure fidelity to our protocols to keep staff, students and families safe.”

Grey-Bruce students will be back in class for the first time since they went off on holiday break on Dec. 18. Aside from some special needs students, the vast majority have been learning virtually for the past three weeks, after a provincewide lockdown was implemented on Boxing Day followed by an emergency declaration and stay-at-home order earlier in January.

Students in Northern Ontario returned to school Jan. 11, while those in some COVID-19 hot zones are to continue to learn virtually until at least Feb. 10. Health and government officials continue to monitor other regions where virtual learning is continuing to determine when they are safe to open.

In Grey-Bruce, protocols that were in place prior to the holiday break will remain, including physical distancing and hygiene measures, facemask requirements, extra sanitation and cleaning, restricting visitors to those deemed essential, symptom screening and cohorting of students.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“Because we were there not too long ago, we are feeling confident we can just begin the process again as we left it,” BWDSB director Lori Wilder said Thursday. “We are feeling good.”

Wilder said she was pleased to hear the news that students and staff would be returning to the classrooms in Grey-Bruce.

“I think that for the families that want that and need that as an option it is good that we are able to open fully for elementary and secondary students,” said Wilder. “I was very pleased just because I know there are families that still have to work outside the home – they are in essential services – or even online so having children at school will support the family dynamics and what they need to do.

“And just for the mental health and well-being of children I think it is good for them to be in school with their cohorts and their peers and the staff there to support them.”

Julie Stanley, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario Bluewater Local said she has heard mixed reactions from her members about the plans to return to school on Monday.

“I know that many are really happy and excited to be returning back to in-person teaching,” Stanley said. “We know that is the best form of learning for most of our students.”

Stanley said remote learning has been difficult at times for teachers who have had to change how they teach, for students who have had to be online for hours a day and for parents.

But she said Thursday she had also heard from members who are afraid about going back.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

“They are afraid for their own personal health and that of their immediate families. There is still a lot of unknowns about COVID and they are worried about the new [strains] of COVID and their potential for rapid spread.

“What we want to ensure is that there is a safe return for all staff and students.”

Stanley said a new challenge for some teachers, which she said other working families may also be experiencing, is that Grey-Bruce is bordered by areas where students are continuing to learn remotely.

“Some of our teachers live outside of Bruce and Grey counties, so their district where their children go to school is still closed,” she said.

“Their schools are still closed, they don’t have daycare available to them and we are still under a lockdown so no one can be brought into their homes to look after their children.”

Stanley said they are working with the Bluewater board on addressing the challenges those teachers face.

“Because the announcement came yesterday at the end of the day we are really scrambling because we reopen on Monday,” she said, adding there is also concern about kindergarten children remaining unmasked in schools.

In Grey-Bruce there are some changes this time around from before the holiday break. Students in grades 1-3 will now be required to wear masks in school and on the bus. Previously masks were only mandatory for Grade 4-12 students.

“That will be a little bit different, but I think parents have been having some of their younger children wear masks when they are out and about,” said Wilder. “That may not be new for some of those students, but that will be new in our schools for sure.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Students will also be required to now wear masks outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.

“It is one of those extra layers of protection that has been asked for to keep us all safe,” O’Donnell said.

More emphasis is being put on students to follow public health protocols before and after school and during lunch and not congregate at those times. They are also asked to go straight home after their school day.

“If parents can reinforce that message at home that would be helpful too,” Wilder said, adding there is a study hall for students waiting for the bus at the end of the school day.

“If they live in town, at the schools we suggest that they go home if they are not accessing the study hall.”

O’Donnell also highlighted the importance of students not gathering in groups before and after school.

“Students like to gather and they will be happy to see each other, so obviously if students can’t maintain physical distancing they have to wear a mask,” said O’Donnell. “We are going to encourage everyone to keep each other safe, to not congregate, to get into school and get into class and find other ways to socialize and communicate with their friends.”

The province has also said there will be additional provincewide volunteer targeted testing of students, staff and their households.

Wilder said they continue to wait on more specifics on what that process will look like.

“As far as we know the local public health units are going to direct this and what schools are going to be eligible,” said Wilder. “We have heard they are going to be targetting higher risk areas.”

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

And screening remains an important tool to help control the spread of COVID-19. Students are required to complete the province’s daily COVID-19 screening questionnaire before coming to school each day. It is available at covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening

O’Donnell said that the community has worked hard to keep everyone safe and it is important to continue that collective work.

“We are really strongly asking families to do the screener everyday and if it asks that a child stay home we are asking that parents do that,” said O’Donnell. “By doing so they keep their child safe, they keep the rest of the school community safe and we keep the spread of COVID to a minimum, which allows us to stay open and to continue.”

Wilder said they also expect a more enhanced self screening protocol to be implemented at schools as the Ministry of Edcucation has asked for confirmation that staff and secondary students only have done self screening.

Wilder said there may be a process during attendance each morning with students to make sure self-screening has occurred.

Remote learning will continue at both boards for those students who opted into it. For the BGCDS, the next date to opt in or out of remote learning is Feb. 3 for elementary students. Secondary students can opt in and out of online learning after each quadmester.

At the Bluewater board, parents of elementary schools were again able to decide if they wanted to switch a student’s learning option in early January. Bluewater secondary students can decide between the remote and in-school learning options at the end of each quadmester. The third quadmester begins Feb. 3 in Bluewater.

“We have been able to give parents some choices depending on their family circumstances and what they feel is best for them,” Wilder said.

O’Donnell said the hope at the BGCDSB is that students remain in the face-to-face classroom setting.

“We did a super job in the fall, Christmas season came upon us and then we saw an increase in cases, but I think those have gone down again,” he said. “If we continue to collectively do what we were doing in the fall I think we should be good to move forward.”

Latest National Stories

Advertisement

Story continues below

News Near Owen Sound

This Week in Flyers