A Lindsay couple whose daughter choked on food at Leslie Frost Public School while there was no adult in the classroom is fighting for more supervision for students.
Meanwhile, a Trillium Lakelands District School Board spokesperson says “students are not left alone unsupervised.”
Neil and Jena-Lyn Westerby say their daughter Lexie, 7, choked on a piece of orange on March 22 which upset her enough that she wanted to call home. She was not allowed to call home, the parents say, although the teacher did notify the parents via a text message after the school day and after Lexie had already told her parents about what had happened.
The incident happened on the first ‘nutrition break’ of the day in a portable classroom. There was no adult in the room.
As the documentation states from the school:
Between 10:50-11:10 on March 22, 2019 a teacher was on duty during morning nutrition break. The teacher was supervising portable 1 and portable 2. A student came to the duty teacher and let her know that Lexie was crying and upset. The teacher went to check on Lexie and found her crying and upset. Lexie indicated that she had choked on a piece of orange she was eating. The duty teacher sent Lexie to office to calm down and be further checked by the office staff.
“A student the same age as my daughter had to go get the teacher,” says Neil Westerby. “I thought my children were under supervision when they go to school. As it turns out our kids are not necessarily supervised on nutrition breaks or lunch though,” he tells the Advocate.
The definition of supervision is where much of the conflict resides.
“Students are not left alone unsupervised,” says Catherine Shedden, who is district manager of corporate communications for TLDSB.
“During nutrition breaks schools plan for an adult to be monitoring classrooms — this might mean an adult monitors more than one classroom,” Shedden adds.
That makes no sense to the Westerby’s.
“Our children are telling us there’s no adult in the room” sometimes during nutrition breaks, says Neil. “There’s no line of sight between one portable and the next. So how is that supervised?”
“I can’t believe there’s no recognition that this is dangerous,” says Jena-Lyn. “We send our kids to school and think they’re safe, but they’re not.”
The school board would not discuss the Westerby’s incident specifically with the Advocate, saying when an incident occurs at a school, “the principal works with the parents to help reassure and put any measures in place that might help to alleviate any future anxiety,” according to Shedden.
At this point the Westerby’s are mainly interested in making wider level change in terms of how supervision occurs in TLDSB schools at large, or even across Ontario.
For instance, at Leslie Frost the school uses 71 minutes of supervision per five day cycle for non-teaching times like recess and lunch — even though they can use more and in fact are encouraged to have 80 minutes.
“We currently have 10 schools (that) are under the 80 minutes of supervision,” Shedden says. “Schools are to use every reasonable effort to achieve 80 minutes of supervision and not to exceed 100 minutes.”
The rules also state that schedules “cannot result in supervision duty assignments that exceed those that were in place on March 1, 2005 unless there has been a change in worksites or assignment.”
“As you can imagine it is a complex system for scheduling,” Shedden says.
As for Leslie Frost and because of the incident with the Westerby’s, Shedden says some changes have been made.
“The principal at Leslie Frost has reviewed supervision and put in place a revised structure where primary grades now have increased supervision during nutrition breaks.”
The Advocate asked the school board if all of this was a funding issue for schools.
“It is not a funding issue — it is an exercise which takes into account teacher schedules,” Shedden says.
When the Westerby’s did some research into other boards they discovered that some boards of education contract out supervision for nutrition breaks, so that teachers don’t have to take on this responsibility. The Advocate asked if this was something TLDSB has — or will – consider in the future but the Board would only confirm that it does not contract supervision for nutrition breaks.
Another issue the Westerby’s have now, after finding out how it works, is that only the custodian at the school has to have CPR training at any TLDSB school.
That’s the norm, they found out.
“TLDSB follows required WSIB regulation and is obligated to have one staff member CPR certified at a school. To be in compliance with WSIB Regulation 1101, we require our Head Custodian and Lead Custodian to have a standard first aid certificate. There may be other staff members with CPR training, but we do not keep records or track certification. The custodian is the one staff member who is typically on school grounds throughout the school day,” Shedden says.
The Westerby’s are looking to coordinate their parent council, which they have found very supportive, with other parent councils in the area, in order to highlight the need for full supervision of all students during any kind of recess or lunch break. They bring up ‘Ryan’s Law,’ as something they don’t want repeated for any other child.
Ryan’s Law is named for Ryan Gibbons who died Oct. 9, 2012, after suffering an asthma attack during recess. His school in Straffordville, near London, ON, did not allow him to keep his puffer with him, even though his mother requested this many times and even produced a doctor’s note.
The boy’s death prompted all schools to change their policies and allow students to carry and manage their own puffers.
“I would like this change (of full supervision during nutrition breaks and lunch) to occur without something like that needing to happen,” says Neil.
“Why can’t our board be the board that steps up on this issue?” Jena-Lyn asks.
A meeting of many parent councils will be discussing this issue on June 10 at 6:30 pm at I.E. Weldon in the cafeteria. All parents and the general public are welcome to attend.