School boards finalize back to school plans with the province's guidance
BARRIE, ONT. -- It was an evening of virtual meetings as Simcoe County's school boards, the health unit, and Ontario's education minister focused on parents' concerns.
In a Facebook Live Q and A, Education Minister Stephen Lecce addressed some burning questions from parents and educators alongside Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin.
"If your child has any of the symptoms, keep them home, and I know that's going to be challenging," Lecce explained, as over 63,000 students prepare to start school.
In Simcoe County, the plan for Catholic secondary school students is two courses per semester. Students will spend one week in one classroom to ensure cohorting guidelines are followed.
"That means one week of that subject with the same teacher and then the next week, their other subject," said Catherine McCullough, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) Interim Director of Education.
Distance learning in Catholic schools will begin on September 14, while public schools will begin a week later on September 21.
Catholic elementary school start dates are staggered by grade.
Kindergarten to grade three students start school on day one, followed by grades 4, 5 and 6 on Wednesday, September 9.
Grades 7 and 8 students will join the rest of the students in school on Thursday, September 10.
Meanwhile, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's meeting focused on outbreak management.
Entire classrooms and their families could be asked to self-isolate for 24 hours or as long as two weeks if exposed to a positive case.
"It's a case by case scenario where public health will decide who has been exposed and therefore who needs to be notified so they can take appropriate action," Dr. Lisa Simon, SMDHU Associate Medical Officer of Health, said.
The public school board held its final meeting before schools will open.
Trustees and the local high school teachers union have expressed concerns over physical distancing challenges at the public board meeting. "Space is a problem, so where is this extra space, and how do we disperse extra space equitably," questioned Sarah Beitz, Simcoe County District School Board *SCDSB) Trustee.
"Some of our classrooms are just not able to be physically distanced," said Simcoe County's Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation President, Jen Hare. "A science class, for example, with specialized equipment. But, if we can reduce even a few of our courses to keep those kids safe, it would be worthwhile to invest in that safety."
The health unit announced that it received funding for 20 public health nurses who would assist schools with screening protocols. However, it's unclear how many nurses will be hired and ready by the time school begins.