Moving from school to school is something supply teachers (or occasional teachers) have always done, as they work to fill in the gaps in the system. It will continue to be an expectation of supply teachers, even during the pandemic – a reality that so far, the province seems willing to ignore.
The initial investigations of deaths at long-term care homes in Ontario pointed strongly to part time staff working at multiple facilities as a key part of the problem with virus spread.
Staff members acted as vectors for the novel coronavirus, carrying it from one facility to the next.
In an interview with Trillium Lakelands District School Board director of education, Wes Hahn, he said the board was “just starting to look at this issue.”
“Staff and student safety are paramount, but folks have to make an income,” he added in an hour-long interview with the Advocate.
The director – who has essentially announced a full return to school, as per provincial directives – said they’re still studying the matter.
“We are looking at all aspects of this question but legally additional teachers, including occasional teachers, will be able to interact with the cohorts.”
Hahn talked about several issues, including teacher sick days in the age of COVID.
He said that because of clauses in the current collective agreement, any teacher who contracts COVID-19 will not have those sick days count against the 10 they receive every year.
However, there has been no direction from the province regarding sick day penalties if a teacher must quarantine because a student in their cohort has tested positive for the virus.
“We are approaching this from a supportive model at the board level,” Hahn stated,” and we are taking things one step at a time. Our staff are valued, and we want them to feel good about their workplace.”
The Advocate wanted to know how many students the board was projecting would return but Hahn wouldn’t name a number.
“We will wait for the survey results from our parents. We want the kids back and learning as quickly as possible. We understand there are parents concerned. That is why we have factored in re-entry for parents and students who change their minds. We don’t want kids to have to wait the whole semester to return to school,” he said.
Consultation with unions
Hahn was asked why there has been minimal contact between the board and its employee groups, OSSTF, ETFO, and CUPE in preparation of the local back- to- school plan.
“We wanted to get a handle on the issues before we went looking for input.”
“Trustees and the senior team needed to have a plan that we were comfortable with before seeking further input,” Hahn said, “and we have never had to deal with these kinds of issues before.
The director says he was starting meetings with unions this week.
“Staff are a major component in this program’s success.”
When asked about busing in a pandemic Hahn was clear.
“There are no limits regarding the numbers of kids we can put on a bus (because of COVID) besides keeping the seat behind the driver empty.”
“We expect that there will be many more parent drives, “Hahn added, “and there will be a reduction in the number of kids who ride the bus.”
“I believe the numbers we bus will be lower than before the pandemic,” the director concluded.
“Students in Grade 4-12 must wear masks,” Hahn stated, and added the school board will have masks for students to wear.
When asked if public health inspectors will be fining students for non-compliance the director said, there had been no direction from the province regarding fines and he would rather problem solve and work with families where this is an issue.
“We are still waiting for the Chief Medical Officer’s input on this issue,” Hahn shared.
“Self-assessment by staff and students regarding their health is going to be a daily occurrence.”
“Schools will be isolating students immediately who present symptoms of the illness during the school day and parents will be called to pick the child up.”
Provincial funding for COVID
When asked if directors had adequate money to cope with the pandemic Hahn didn’t have a clear answer.
“It is different from school board to school board.”
“There is no blanket answer, it is too complex. There are too many moving parts at this stage to really say.”