TLDSB hopes to know what next school year will be like in late May

By Kirk Winter

Will students be back in brick-and-mortar schools come fall?

Director of Education for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board, Wes Hahn, told trustees that he expects to have much more information about what the 2021-2022 school year is going to look like in late May once next year’s funding model is decided upon by the Ministry of Education.

“Planning for 2021 is tough right now,” Hahn said, “We would like to be discussing budget and staffing but we have not received our GSNs (grant for student needs that specify how much money the board will get per pupil) from the ministry and we really can’t do one without the other.”

Director of Education Wes Hahn.

“Step One in the process is occurring right now,” Hahn continued, “by enrolling all students for next year in their home school. Step Two is on hold because we don’t have any idea how much funding will be available for virtual learning. Most families have expressed an interest in coming back to brick and mortar schools. It is clear that Learn at Home will be on a much smaller scale, but we are waiting for more information before we act.”

Hahn said that the board has been soliciting parents for ideas. He adds that if cohorting is necessary – grouping the same groups of students together instead of having them travel to multiple classes within the school – then they want “to create a model that causes minimal disruption for students, likely something similar to this year.”

“We are waiting for vaccines to help bring back some kind of normalcy in the system.”

Hahn told trustees that “the pace keeps going” and that he realizes that the back and forth between brick and mortar schooling and virtual learning has been really challenging.

“Students, staff and parents have found this hard,” Hahn said. “Locally we have to take our lead from the ministry and public health. We are having to react to what they recommend. It is not a great situation but this is the course we must follow.”

“I want to recognize the staff who are still in our buildings working with special-education students,” Hahn said. “I want to thank them for their professionalism and support for students in an environment of rising cases of COVID in the schools. We have 74 elementary students and 85 secondary students in our PALS and AIMS programs still regularly attending. The passion and commitment of their teachers is exceptional.”

The director said some staff have been vaccinated but the pace of vaccinations are not what the board would have liked. However, he says it is not the province’s fault as supply has been an issue.

“Our trustees have been very vocal about vaccines and it has been heard.”

Hahn told trustees that an additional $7.5 million in federal money recently received has been spent across the board on improved HVAC systems, touchless hand washing stations and touchless water bottle refilling stations.

Trustee Gary Brohman complimented senior staff on all they have been doing agreeing “the hardest thing to do is planning. But if planning isn’t done well nothing else happens.”

Trustee John Byrne wanted more information on the board’s plan for virtual learning for 2021-2022 saying,” I have had calls on both sides of the spectrum regarding programming for next year. While I realize the first option should be returning kids to brick and mortar schools, there are some parents who love the online option. Durham Region has asked its parents to commit to one option or the other by May 4. When will we be making decisions with or without knowing what our GSNs will be?”

“Most boards are in the same boat as we are,” Hahn said, and notes that some boards like Durham have been forced to staff early for next year based on dates contained in their collective agreements.

“We would like to avoid that, because it might force last minute timetabling and staffing changes in the fall. We want to create the best learning we can which will begin by registering all students at their home schools and then we may need to pivot from there.”

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