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Schools working through COVID-19 measures

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Kids may enjoy an extended March Break due to provincial COVID-19 precautionary closures but what are schools doing to ensure students don’t fall behind?

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And what will working parents do with their younger kids for March Break and two weeks after that, now that schools and any attached childcare centres are officially closed until April 5?

School board administrators both public and Catholic scrambled to put in place plans Friday, the day before students and teachers headed off for March Break amid the novel coronavirus pandemic – which has produced no local confirmed cases announced by late Friday afternoon.

Both boards announced they would be communicating directly with parents and via the boards’ websites with updates.

What parts of the curriculum, if any, may be assigned or delivered during the government-declared two week precautionary hiatus after March Break remains unclear, at least at the Catholic board.

Bluewater said in an online question-and-answer sheet that teachers would not be providing additional work to students, though the Ministry of Education “may be providing additional learning resources on their website during this period.”

Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board director Gary O’Donnell said he’s waiting for direction from Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce “around how to proceed with the curriculum and how to support our students and staff through that.”

O’Donnell said Lecce said in a press conference he would be coming up with some suggestions. But O’Donnell said virtual classes may be part of the answer, to be determined by administrative staff over the March Break.

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Meanwhile, his board advises parents who travel outside of the province to be back by March 23, followed by two weeks of self-monitoring and isolation prior to returning to school April 6. See the Catholic board’s COVID-19 communications posted at https://bgcdsb.org/community_health.

The Bluewater board closures include adult education programs, before-and-after-school childcare, and Outdoor Education Centre.

Both boards said their schools will receive a deep cleaning.

Public school board meetings are cancelled, all school-use permits are cancelled during this period, as are all extracurricular activities, field trips and March break activities.

The list of pandemic-related closures keeps growing, as efforts build to limit large gatherings of people, to flatten the expected spike in cases of this novel coronavirus.

From the suspension of NHL hockey games until further notice to the suspension of Parliament itself until April 20, these are unprecedented measures to quell the impact of COVID-19 on public health.

Lecce issued a ministerial order late Thursday afternoon that closed all publicly funded schools for two weeks following the March break, from March 14 to April 5.

The province is advising that all large group gatherings of 250 or more should be suspended.

According to information from the Ontario government’s coronavirus website, avoiding spreading the virus, which causes flu-like symptoms, is best done by social isolation, hand-washing and coughing or sneezing into your sleeve.

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Risk of severe disease may be higher for people with weakened immune systems, such as older people and those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart, renal or chronic lung disease.

But public health and other officials have also stressed that people should not be unduly concerned because most who get infected should be fine.

At Hungry Hippo Childcare Centre in Owen Sound, there are additional COVID-19 restrictions in place and the phone has been ringing with calls from concerned parents.

“Some parents are fearful. We’ve had a couple parents just say they’re staying home all together,” supervisor Taylor Slater said.

“Then we’ve had parents on the opposite spectrum, where they’re panicking because they don’t have care for their kids, right? They have to go to work and they have nowhere to send their kids while they’re at work.”

Most of the parents who called already send their kids there and were seeking reassurance they can continue to send them, Slater said. There are still some spaces but school-aged kids will be kept separate from toddlers and pre-schoolers, she said.

Other COVID-19 restrictions at Hungry Hippo require any families with kids in childcare who travel for March Break to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to the childcare centre, Slater said.

The same goes for families in contact with other family members who have travelled over the March Break, she said. Kids who are ill are asked to stay home, she said.

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At Wooden Hill Child Care Centre, executive director Emily Nicholls-Harrison said parents have generally been “very supportive” about the closure until April 5 of both childcare centre locations, at Notre Dame and St. Basil’s schools in Owen Sound.

“I think they understand the severity . . .  of this pandemic and they’re concerned for their children’s welfare,” she said.

“They understand that this is something that we didn’t have a choice about because we do exists within schools . . . we have to follow the policies that the school board sets out for their facilities.”

As the situation evolves, organizations are making decisions about what to do next.

For example, the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library remains open for now, chief librarian Tim Nicholls Harrison said Friday. But the library has suspended its March break programming and will keep its toy yard closed and suspend club and group activities there at least until April 5.

Bruce County’s library system remains open too. The situation is being monitored closely, but all library programs and events through April 5 are suspended, according to a notice on the library website.

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