School board reports show education stressors are piling up

By Kirk Winter

Reports made by multiple Trillium Lakelands District School Board officials indicate a system that, while working hard to provide the best available education, is straining under the almost constant change being thrown at it by pandemic-related developments.

These stressors are impacting administrators, front-line staff, parents, and students.

Director of Education Wes Hahn spent the better part of a half hour detailing how the board was coping with the changes that have occurred just since Jan. 1.

Director of Education, Wes Hahn.

The director reminded trustees that the board will deliver classes virtually until Jan. 25. Hahn is expecting an announcement from public health and the ministry of education Jan. 20 about a return to in-person education. He hoped that parents would not be confused by some of the premier’s statements, including the announcement that a number of urban boards in southern Ontario will continue to deliver programming virtually until Feb 10.

As it stands now, teaching staff may still go into their school to teach virtually, using the resources there and internet provided by the board to teach their classes. However, it’s not recommended, according to Hahn.

“Custodial staff will be at school along with administrators, teachers and educational assistants who have special needs students in their building still receiving in-person education.”

Hahn told trustees that when in-person education does return, enhanced screening protocols will be in place and the testing of asymptomatic students will be stepped up.

“I realize the toll that this is taking on families, students and staff,” Hahn said.

“It is especially hard on teachers with their own children at home. Internet conductivity issues have become extremely stressful also. I appreciate the patience all our parents have shown through this pandemic.”

“Teachers are working so hard. It is very encouraging to see the things that are happening and we want to make sure we are supporting teachers, particularly those delivering learning at home which many teachers are finding difficult.”

“We have no expectation of five hours of face-to-face instruction occurring every day,” Hahn said, “Teachers will prepare lessons, teach them and then there will be time for independent work. We don’t want teachers to lose their professional discretion regarding how and what to teach.”

Hahn addressed am issue with trustees that is the source of parental frustration for some — the wait list times that exist for students to move from online learning to in-person learning and vice-versa. Hahn asked that parents “remain patient.”

“Until spaces become available students won’t be moving,” Hahn said. “Re-organization is very stressful at this time. We can’t keep all families happy. We will not engage in a large scale re-sorting as it will send the system into upheaval.”

Hahn told trustees that particularly at elementary there are more students wanting to return to in-person learning. There are 70 students in the elementary panel requesting a return to in-person learning, with five students wanting to move from in-person to online learning.

Hahn complimented his senior board staff “who have big portfolios and tough decisions to be made in the best interests of students. We can keep managing COVID, but we can’t have students falling behind. Our main focus needs to be on student achievement.”

“All students working at home have a device if necessary,” Hahn continued, “and Mi-Fi sticks have been made available with Grade 12 students getting priority. We have made work packages available for families with connectivity and infrastructure issues.” Mi-Fi stick allow for internet access in areas where connectively may be an issue.

Student trustees Kaylee Kelly and Ryder Lytle presented data provided by peers to indicate that for some students this very unusual school year has been extremely challenging.

Lytle told trustees and senior staff that board software packages are not capable of converting senior math and science annotations and technical terminology making it very challenging (if not impossible) to do some of the work online.

Kelly shared students, particularly those responsible for care of younger siblings while parents work, have found keeping up with their online work all but impossible.

“Students are finding themselves unmotivated and overwhelmed. They are overstressed. There is too much material coming at them and too little time to do it. Many are facing five-plus hours online with three full lessons and an evaluation every day. Three quarters of the people I speak with respond negatively (about their current educational experiences). ”

Trustee Louise Clodd, one of the board representatives on the Ontario Public School Board Association, shared with council that OPSBA continues to meet virtually trying to focus on all education issues. One issue that was reported at the last OPSBA meeting which has become a major issue for this board over the last decade is how to accommodate French immersion program growth.

The board will meet again virtually on Jan. 26.

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