Rainbow District School Board unveils its back-to-school plan for September: Here's what you need to know
SUDBURY -- It's news that many parents, teachers and students have been waiting for and as officials at the Rainbow District School board say, September will look as normal as possible.
"Our students will be going back from K-12, especially at the elementary level. We are going to look very much like a normal day," said the board's director of education, Norm Blaseg.
For students in kindergarten to Grade 8, itis recommended to have a threshold of fewer than 50 people and Blaseg says protocols are in place to help keep student-to-student contact under that number.
"There are going to be a number of significant health and safety protocols put in place, but for the most part, it will look very, very similar. Although there will not be kids rotating, it will be teacher rotating between classes," said Blaseg.
Students in grades K-8 will still receive 300 minutes of education per day, the same as before the pandemic, but will be kept in one room with the same peers.
At the high school level, the threshold has been increased to 100 people per day, giving students a bit more leeway when it comes to classes.
"You're going to have a Period 1, Period 2 for one week and then a Period 3, Period 4 the following week," said Blaseg. "So most kids have four periods during the course of a semester, so you'll see it over a 10-day cycle. Again, it's to limit the number of student-to-student contacts."
He adds: "Their day will look the same in terms of the number of minutes, but their classes will be longer. So, the first period class with be 150 minutes. They'll have lunch. Then they'll have their second period, another 150 minutes."
Blaseg said that three PA days have been planned at the beginning of the year to help address health and safety and mental health concerns about reopening schools - something he said is happening for the first time ever in his memory.
Other safety protocols will be in place as well, including mandatory masks for students starting in Grade 4 and importance on physical distancing.
Officials say that guidelines and protocols will continue to change based on the pandemic and recommendations from the ministry and public health.
However, even with tentative plans in place, parents and teachers are still faced with a tough decision.
Robin Simpson is both an early childhood educator and a mother to a 5-year-old who is eager to be reunited with her friends. However, Robin is still trying to decide what will happen for her family come September.
"I feel like it's going to be a game-day decision. And there's no right answer because it could either go really well or it could go horribly wrong," said Simpson.
She adds that she also has to take into consideration her own health, as she is immunocompromised.
"Do I put her education and mental health above my own health? As a parent, every time my child trumps, I will put my child first. But it is something that is constantly weighing on my mind," said Simpson.
Members of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) also have concerns as the September deadline looms.
"Many of them have medical issues that they're very concerned about. Some of them have family members that they care for, that they're very concerned about going back into a classroom," said Liana Holm, President for ETFO's Rainbow Teacher Local. "Many, many of them are just concerned about going back to the classroom period under the plan that the ministry has developed for us."
Holm said that the school board has been working closely with the union and she knows that safety is a top priority for everyone as they head into uncharted waters, but many members are concerned that things are moving too fast.
"Right now, it's about physically being back in the building. I mean, just entering a building with 30-plus students, you know, when a few weeks ago public health was saying we could only be with our social circles of 10. And then, all of a sudden, that circle has now increased to 100. So that's a big jump, in a week," said Holm.
Anxiety is a big concern for both teachers and students as officials continue to try to figure out what is best.
"I think the biggest challenge is dealing with the anxiety that's associated with (going back to school during the pandemic) because we all come from different places," said Blaseg. "Obviously, if we have all of the health and safety protocols in place, we will feel much better. I mean, the whole issue of wearing a mask that is one thing that you will see that's very different."
The board is also offering transition programs Aug. 24-28 for students with high anxiety or special needs. However, spaces are limited and applications close on Friday.
"It's typically just in the mornings and those students would be coming to school and we'd be focusing on those non-academic needs," said Blaseg. "Getting used to the environment, getting used to the structure, getting used to having some other folks in the room."
A survey is being sent to parents following the reopening announcement so that the school board can see how many students are planning to return to the classroom or how many will be opting for distance learning.
"We'll do everything we can to ease their minds and make this transition as easy as possible," said Holm.