Board re-opening plan faces trustee scrutiny

By Kirk Winter

Wes Hahn, the newly minted director of education for Trillium Lakelands School Board, presented to trustees an update on the board’s re-opening plan for Sept. 8 but faced a multitude of questions from the trustees who were present.

This included questions about bus safety, cafeteria protocols, upgrading HVAC systems, social distancing plans, and much more.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Hahn began, “and we will try to present to you the most current information that we have.”

Hahn said they met for two hours with the deputy minister of education last week and believe a good foundation is in place.

Wes Hahn, director of education, TLDSB.

The report to trustees laid out the following new information that builds on the provincial announcement of last week:

  • Elementary students will be in class all day with their full class under the supervision of their home room teacher. Teachers for specialized subjects will rotate to them rather than the students travelling.
  • Secondary students are likely facing a “quadmester system” where they are in class for the full 300 minutes a day with 150 minutes of one course in the morning and 150 minutes of another course in the afternoon with the courses changing in mid-semester.
  • The ministry has told all boards that a full offering of classes must be available in each secondary school.
  • All staff must wear a mask.
  • Cleaning supplies have been ordered for the fall but PPE has not yet been ordered.
  • “Self-assessment” will be the new buzzword for the fall with parents expected to check their children every day for illness before sending them to school and keeping them home if there are any concerns.
  • Volunteers and visitors will be prohibited from being in school buildings.
  • While bus transportation will be in place, the board is encouraging students to consider walking or biking if safe.
  • The board expects that many more children will be driven to school by their parents at least initially.
  • The board “promised to do its best” with bus cleaning and seating procedures. Children will be seated by school, family or by class on buses to limit cohort cross-contamination.
  • Parents and guardians will be receiving electronically a survey by Friday, Aug. 7 that they will need to answer about whether their child is opting for school in person, distance education and whether they will need a bus. Until those surveys are returned the board will not be able to staff, assign teaching duties or predict the number of buses they will require.

“The kids want to be back at school,” Hahn says. “We are going to do everything possible to prevent the kids from mixing in large numbers but there is much more work to do between now and Sept. 1.”

The floor was then open to trustee questions. Many were posed. Not necessarily all were all answered completely.

Judy Saunders wanted to know who would determine bus seating plans believing that asking the bus drivers to do so would be unfair.

“We don’t want the bus drivers to take on that responsibility…we are still deciding how it is going to work,” said superintendent of business services Tim Ellis.

Trustee Stephen Binstock focused his queries on cleaning, the state of school washrooms and HVAC systems.

“We believe things are in order,” Ellis replied. “We have emphasized to our contractors that bathrooms need to be done by Sept. 1.”

“We have been squirreling away supplies since March,” Ellis added, “and we believe that with 75 per cent of our elementary classes with sinks, the bulk of the hand washing will be done there.”

“We are also removing hall doors that lead into bathroom facilities in schools where this hasn’t already happened to eliminate touch points,” Ellis stated.

On the issue of cleaning or upgrades of HVAC systems that have been linked to the spread of the illness in some studies Ellis told Binstock, there have been “no government requests for HVAC cleanings.”

Trustee John Byrne wanted to know what options exist for parents who change their minds about their schooling or transportation choices for their children sometime after they have completed the survey.

“Nothing has been put in place yet locally, but we want the cohorts to be stable,” Hahn said.

“We want to be flexible as to when parents can opt back in but it might not be till a mid-semester point.  There may also not be space on a bus, and it might take weeks to find space on a bus,” Hahn warned.

Byrne, a former bus driver, had more questions about bus safety protocols. He wanted to know how students will be assigned seats on a bus.

“Regardless of what you do, younger kids have to be at the front of the bus. In the event of a rollover older kids can open the roof hatch or back door. Younger kids need to be closer to the driver, and unless this happens I wouldn’t drive the bus,” Byrne said.

Student trustee Kaylee Kelly had multiple questions for Hahn and his superintendents regarding access to lockers, extracurricular activities, breakfast programs and the ability of secondary students to drop courses and change their timetables.

“We want to minimize touch points,” Hahn stated, “and likely initially there will be no access to lockers. We are looking at that closely.”

“We are also looking at change rooms school by school and determining what our best policies should be there for fitness programs,” Hahn added.

On the issue of extracurriculars Hahn said, “We want to be able to offer them but perhaps some clubs can run virtually. Anything that involves close interaction of students like sports we are simply not prepared to put students at risk.”

Hahn recognized that breakfast programs “are an important part of school” and suggested that the programs “will likely distribute single serving offerings within the buildings without the use of volunteers beginning on September 8.”

“I am open to students being able to switch classes in the senior grades,” Hahn told Kelly, “but we want to keep our cohorts together.”

Chair Bruce Reain needed more information about the distance learning programs that will be put in place.

“We want to have the right teachers in front of the right kids but we need to know numbers,” the director said. “We will try to organize it as best as we can,” Hahn offered,” and we hope to have parent answers regarding choices in a week.”

Trustee Gary Brohman wanted to know how you socially distance in drama and physical education, and suggested moving elective courses into Semester 2 when perhaps the province would have a better idea about the pandemic’s second wave.

However, superintendent Katherine MacIver was non-comm ital on this point.

With a 150 minute block of learning in the morning and afternoon, Brohman wondered how breaks will occur. He also asked about plans for cafeteria service.

“Not all classes will be on breaks at the same time,” MacIver shared.

“Cafeteria service needs to be looked at carefully, focusing on how we keep a large number of students from mixing,” Hahn added.

MacIver continued the train of thought, “Cafeterias will need to be well supervised.”

Brohman added, “We must support vulnerable kids. Nutrition programs in all forms need to run. We need to be prepared to give these kids a mask at the door if necessary too.”

Colleen Wilcox concluded the questioning from trustees on the thorny issue of class sizes and programs potentially being cancelled. She wondered what the board would do if suddenly there was a Grade 4 class with only nine in attendance with the rest enrolled in distance learning? Would the class run?

Acting executive officer for employment services, Tracy Hubbard offered, “We need to get numbers. We need to see where the kids are going to be.”

The presentation was for information only and a more formalized document will be approved on Aug. 18.

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