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Trillium Lakelands

Multiple bus cancellations could happen by Thanksgiving due to driver shortages

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Sinead Fegan, communications officer for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, and Tim Ellis, superintendent of business, have shared publicly for the first time this week that the board’s transportation suppliers are finding it difficult to recruit bus drivers for fall 2020, and that this driver shortage may create serious issues later in October.

“Yes, currently the transportation operators are having an issue with finding drivers,” Fegan wrote in an email to the Advocate.

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Learning at home, HVAC funding among challenges for TLDSB

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Distance learning may be the new reality for Ontario students

Senior staff at Trillium Lakelands Board of Education made sure trustees were aware at their regular September meeting of the challenges they’re facing — including upgrading HVAC systems.

The challenge, according to superintendent of business Tim Ellis, is that although the board received additional funding for HVAC updates of more than $500,000, boards only have eight weeks to spend it or lose it.

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TLDSB commits $4 million from reserve to cover COVID expenses

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Local trustees approved the spending of up to $4 million of their financial reserve to cover COVID related expenses for the 2020-2021 school year.

The board voted unanimously “to access surplus funds up to 2 per cent of the board operating budget to come from the surplus to be used at the discretion of senior management.”

At the same meeting the board announced a $220 million dollar budget with a $995,000 deficit for the 2020-2021 school year.

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

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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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85 per cent of local parents sending their kids back to school

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“There are limited buses available. There is also a driver shortage.”

At a Special Meeting of the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, director of education Wes Hahn said that the vast majority of parents have opted to return their children to regular full day learning beginning September 8.

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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.

Are extracurriculars ‘dead on arrival’ this year?

in Back to School 2020/Education by

Many students of all grades and backgrounds become involved in extracurricular activities at their school. Pre-COVID there was a myriad of activities available for students at minimal cost: sports, music, drama and clubs of all shapes and sizes.

Parents and students are wondering if, with schools reopening, will extracurriculars be returning too?

In late July, the Ontario government stated, “Organized sports and clubs have been given the green light to proceed if physical distancing can be maintained and equipment is cleaned regularly.”In Ontario, high school sports are governed by OFSAA, the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations.

The organization has formed a Return to Sport Committee with input from community sports organizations and public health officials. “We will be ready when it is safe to return to play,” said Nick Rowe, president of OFSAA.

In mid-August, Wes Hahn, the new director of education for Trillium Lakelands District School Board said he hoped that some school clubs might be able to operate virtually. He downplayed the possibility of sports where physical contact between participants is hard to enforce and social distancing would be impossible.

As one long-time high school coach noted, “I don’t think there will be much staff interest this year. Coaches as a whole are getting older, and teenagers are prime COVID carriers. Buses, change rooms, gyms and pools will be prime breeding grounds for this illness.”

Music ensembles face serious hurdles, too. “How can you socially distance with 40 kids in a music room?” wondered a music teacher. “How can you play a number of key instruments with a mask on? Extracurriculars are dead on arrival this year, and that makes me so sad.”

Officially sanctioned or not, extracurricular activities can only take place if teachers are willing to lead them, something that’s far from certain.

A veteran elementary teacher has put on numerous plays and pageants but just doesn’t see them happening this school year, saying such activities don’t feel safe for either teachers or students If those safety concerns aren’t addressed, the teacher added, “I will not be in my building one minute longer than I legally have to be.

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.

Board re-opening plan faces trustee scrutiny

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Wes Hahn, the newly minted director of education for Trillium Lakelands School Board, presented to trustees an update on the board’s re-opening plan for Sept. 8 but faced a multitude of questions from the trustees who were present.

This included questions about bus safety, cafeteria protocols, upgrading HVAC systems, social distancing plans, and much more.

“We are living in unprecedented times,” Hahn began, “and we will try to present to you the most current information that we have.”

Hahn said they met for two hours with the deputy minister of education last week and believe a good foundation is in place. Keep Reading

All students must re-register for school as TLDSB gauges interest from parents

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Following closely on the heels of the provincial announcement that Trillium Lakelands District School Board buildings will be able to re-open Sept. 8 with few restrictions, the local board is trying to assess how many children will actually be returning to school in the fall.

“Next week all TLDSB families will receive an email with a link to a form asking to re-register each child for in-person and at-home learning,” a press release on the board websites shares.

“Once this information is received a program will be developed with enhanced public health protocols in place.”

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