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Mayor talks budget, COVID planning; City gets $5 million from feds

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Mayor Andy Letham shared with reporters at his weekly media scrum updates on many pressing municipal issues and an extensive list of important municipal and provincial dates of interest.

Five million in funding for COVID relief 

The city has received notice that Kawartha Lakes qualifies for $5 million on COVID assistance money from a fund set up by the federal government and administered by the provincial government.

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Catholic principals join call for slower re-opening

in Education by
Catholic principals join call for slower re-opening
“This will afford principals, vice-principals and staff to better prepare for the start of a new school year.”

The Catholic Principals Council of Ontario, representing administrators working for the Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington School Board, added their voices late last week to a call by public board principals represented by the Ontario Principals Council to keep schools shuttered across Ontario for one more week as staff prepare for schooling in the age of COVID.

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What the first day of school will look like, elementary and secondary

in Education by

Wes Hahn, director of education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, began to share with trustees last Tuesday at a Special Meeting of the Board what opening day for students is going to look like.

School signage

Signage is current being installed at all schools to indicate what access doors are locked and unlocked and what direction students are to walk in the halls.

Cleaning

“Enhanced cleaning” of facilities is planned for morning, mid-day and evening each school day. Hahn praised the “passion and commitment to making this work” shown by custodial staff right across the board.

Length of in-school day

300 minutes of learning time have been mandated by the province.

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How safe will buses be?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

Rumours that “Bus companies have no plan for back to school” are misleading and must sound scary for parents, said Greg Hammond. He owns Kawartha Lakes Bus Lines and is a senior executive with School Bus Ontario, the lobby group that represents most school carriers in Ontario.

“What exactly the plan looks like I am not able to say,” Hammond added during an interview in mid-August, “but parents can be assured that it will be a good, safe and workable plan.

“We have been considering all the different contingencies. School boards and school bus operators have been in constant conversation. We will get the kids to school safely,” he promised.

The province announced minimum standards for school buses at the end of July. They recommend students be assigned seats and sit with people from their household or classroom cohort. The standards stipulate that the driver will receive PPE, the seat behind them will be left empty, and that the windows should be left open when possible.

In normal times, Kawartha Lakes Bus Lines fields a fleet of approximately 130 buses responsible for delivering elementary and secondary students in TLDSB to the school of their choice.

Pre-COVID, buses were limited to 48 riders who were in Grade 6 and older, or 72 students in the kindergarten to Grade 5 age range.

Although boards close to Kawartha Lakes reported a worrying shortage of bus drivers for September, according to conversations with local drivers, Hammond says his company worked hard to recruit and train people. “We hope we are not short drivers.”

The Trillium Lakelands board surveyed parents in August to determine how many children would be going back to school in person. (The separate school board likewise asked parents to declare their intentions.)The bus company had to wait for those results before it made its hiring decisions.

With a reported average age of 62, according to a Teamsters Canada rep, Ontario bus drivers fall into the category of those who will be hit harder if they were to contract COVID-19.

Other jurisdictions have floated proposals requiring multiple bus cleanings a day, something Hammond suggested was “a reasonable expectation.”

He added, “Enhanced cleaning costs money in cleaning products, time and labour. It is going to be something we will be looking at closely.”

As of the Advocate’s press time, there did not appear to be any COVID-based restrictions on the number of students allowed on a bus.

Will schools be clean enough?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

As desperate as they are to return to some kind of normalcy in their lives, parents who were contacted by the province made it clear that schools must be safe and sparkling clean before their children arrive back on Sept. 8, and that they need to remain that way.

Probably for the first time in a very long time, this pandemic has caused people’s attention to focus on the very important women and men who clean their children’s schools: the custodial staff.

Depending upon the school, there could be as few as one or as many as 20 custodians. And they’re every bit as concerned about conditions in schools as parents are.

“Most of us are over the age of 55 … and this is terrifying,” said one custodian with the Catholic board. (Staff quoted in this story requested anonymity.) “I can’t imagine with all the uncertainty around school cleanliness and safety that anyone would be interested in a custodial position right now.”

Another custodian from TLDSB said in a text, “It is all a numbers game right now … If more than half the kids come back, all bets are off without more staff and schools closing to the public when the buses roll. There simply won’t be enough staff to maintain the level of cleanliness that will be expected. I have seen a quarter of our kids home with the regular garden variety flu in December. COVID is much more serious for me, my fellow custodians and my students.”

Safety is the word on everyone’s lips. “Support staff wants students and staff to be able to work and learn together in a safe environment,” said Bill Campbell, president of the CUPE local that represents support staff including custodians at the Trillium Lakelands board.

Many school buildings are open from early in the morning until late at night, a veteran custodian who works in a public high school pointed out.

“When the students leave, the public comes in. There is no way we will be able to get the buildings clean if they are still open for public rentals.”

“Those public rentals also expose the staff to hundreds of other individuals who might be carrying the coronavirus. That is very frightening for front-line workers like school custodians,” the custodian added.

Are the teachers onside?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

The short answer? No.

Most Ontario teachers say they want to be back in the classroom this fall, but only if local school boards and the province meet several important criteria. One teacher admitted to being baffled by “how you can teach, discipline and assist without violating social distance regulations. It is simply impossible to do.”

When the province announced in late July that all publicly funded schools were to offer full-day, five-day-a-week school this fall, with pre-COVID class sizes, it caught many teachers off guard and caused a social media backlash seldom seen in the educational community.

One long-time elementary teacher expressed disgust for the Hospital for Sick Children report the province used as a basis for its focus on in-person learning for the fall. (All classroom teachers quoted in this article asked for anonymity in exchange for sharing their candid opinions.) “I am sure they are fine doctors (at Sick Kids) but they haven’t been in a classroom since the days of the one-room school house. I think they are expecting me to stand at the front of the class sheathed in Plexiglas and deliver my lesson. They are so clueless about what real teaching is.”

Online, in meetings and in private, many teachers are voicing similar frustrations about the reopening of schools this fall.

“Our prime concern is the health and safety of our workers, and along with them, students,” said Colin Matthew in an e-mail. His union represents secondary teachers in Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

“We will be focused primarily on infection control.”This may mean some combination of masking along with physical distancing which can be incredibly difficult in a high school environment and on the buses,” Matthew added.

His counterpart with the elementary teachers’ union, Karen Bratina, agreed. “Regardless of the model (for instruction) emergency funding must be provided by the Ford government to ensure a safe and effective reopening of schools for all stakeholders,” she said.

“Boards will require additional staff to ensure smaller class sizes for social distancing requirements,” Bratina added, “and sufficient personal protective equipment must be provided along with additional hand-washing facilities throughout the school.”

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association represents staff in the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB). It issued a strongly worded statement on August 10 that read, in part, “The safe care of our children is a fundamental social compact. Society and economies are built around child care. Parents want to send their kids back to school, but only if it is safe.”

“Older teachers instructing high school students every day and in classes of 25 to 30 are very concerned about catching COVID,” one veteran teacher said.

“We now know teens carry and spread the disease at the same or higher rates than other adults, and that scares me.”

Most schools re-opening in the fall: TLDSB to announce more details soon

in Education/Health by
Where is our local voice? School board should speak out about Ford’s classroom plans
Students will be cohorted into small learning groups to reduce contacts with others.

Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced in Whitby today the re-opening of most Ontario schools for a five day a week, five hour a day of regular learning commencing Sept. 8.

The event, held at a Catholic secondary school, was a who’s who of the provincial Conservative Party with local MPP Laurie Scott joining in for the announcement. Durham Catholic trustees were invited and were in attendance, but no teaching staff or support staff were present for this crucial announcement.

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Trustees opt for ‘fresh face and new ideas’ with incoming director of education

in Education by
Trustees opt for ‘fresh face and new ideas’ with incoming director of education

Many board of education watchers were pleasantly surprised when Trillium Lakelands District School Board trustees chose Wes Hahn as the new director of education.

Hahn hails from the District School Board of Niagara, a progressive board where he was known for his hands-on approach and frequent visits to schools.

Niagara board chair, Sue Barnett, says Trillium Lakelands will be fortunate to have him.

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New director of education chosen to replace Hope

in Education by
Trustees opt for ‘fresh face and new ideas’ with incoming director of education

Trustees approved the appointment of Wesley Hahn as the new director of education for Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) this afternoon at a special meeting of the board.

Hahn began his career in education in the Toronto District School Board. He moved to the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board as a teacher, and then an administrator before being appointed as a superintendent in 2012 at the District School Board of Niagara.

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Province announces provincial plan for distance learning

in Education by

Few were surprised today when Premier Doug Ford announced that public schools in Ontario will be closed until at least May 4, 2020.

At a press conference featuring the premier and Minister of Education, Steven Lecce, parents were provided with information about what distance learning is going to look like.

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