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Ontario principals ask for more time for school openings

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The Ontario Principals’ Council (OPC) that represents over 5,000 school leaders in public elementary and secondary schools across the province has asked for more time to get their schools ready for opening in September.

Schools across Ontario are slated to be open Sept. 8, but the OPC, in a press release shared late last week, has recommended that the start of the school year be delayed until September 14 “to allow staff the time to train on matters such as PPE, outbreak management and tracing protocols.”

They have also asked that the start of school be staggered across the week of September 17-21 with only a small number of students arriving each day.

“This practice would be an effective way to welcome students back to the new normal of our schools,” stated council president Ann Pace.

Education minister Stephen Lecce pushed back quickly against a two week delay to full schooling saying, the province “will not stand in the way of boards looking to run some kind of staggered orientation week September 8-11.”

Dr. Carol Campbell, OISE.

“I am open to that idea. However students will be in full day attendance where appropriate effective September 17,” Lecce said.

The OPC is the second last educational employee group to make their concerns about school re-openings public, joining the four teachers’ federations and CUPE.

Only the Catholic Principals’ Council has yet to raise public concerns about a Sept. 8 full re-opening.

OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, and perhaps the the most respected educational think tank in Canada, has suggested schools not re-open until early October.

Carol Campbell, an associate professor of leadership and education change at OISE, in a publicly available paper released last week entitled A Gentle Return to School: Go Slow to Go Fast presents the best and worst case scenarios from around the world of nations that have already re-opened their school systems to mixed results.

Campbell cites Denmark as the example Ontario should follow. The Danes were one of the first nations to re-open last April and the process took over a month to complete.

The Danish school system staggered the return of students over the month with youngest students arriving first followed by older students in increasing increments.

Israel, on the other hand, opened too fast and had to close their schools for a second time as COVID cases spiked, Campbell reported.

Local principals contacted for comment referred all inquiries to the board office. A request for comment from the Trillium Lakelands District School Board went unanswered.

One educational insider, who is not authorized to speak for  senior management or trustees, did suggest that the local board may announce as early as Aug. 18 that the first week of school will be some kind of staggered  public health orientation week with only a small cohort of students attending each day.

Two recently retired administrators with close ties to the system shared anonymously the following with The Advocate:

“Principals are not public health officials or doctors, and they are being made responsible for the health and safety of hundreds if not thousands of individuals in their respective buildings. I spoke to a number over the last two weeks who have looked at the return to school plan being proposed by the province and found it shamefully underfunded. Those same principals have been trying to figure out if they can retire early without destroying their pensions, and many are trapped by being just a few years too young to get out,” the first retired principal shared.

The second retiree reminded parents how complex such a job site is, “at the best of times.”

“This is not the best of times. Many of our elementary school leaders are working without a full-time vice principal and maybe only one or two custodians to get the building ready. Give them some additional time for goodness sake.”

“I have talked to enough people around the issue of COVID that this rush to get kids back to school is very much prefaced on getting as many days in as the province can before they have to shut the doors again around Remembrance Day when the second wave of COVID is predicted to hit. The province wants a couple of months of face to face learning before they might have to send everybody home again. There is no time with that scenario driving things for a soft re-opening,” the retired principal said.

Kirk is a retired high school history teacher and coach who has had a lifelong interest in politics at all levels. Since retiring, Kirk has spent the last three years doing freelance writing of all kinds for various platforms. Kirk can often be found sitting in the press gallery at City Hall observing and reporting on the vagaries of local government.

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