Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) new Director of Education Katherine McIver offered more in depth highlights of what students can expect when they resume in person learning next week.
McIver told Trustees Monday that the Return to School launch is a cautious approach to activities and guidelines for staff and students while inside HPEDSB buildings when re-engaging physical learning.
HPEDSB is focused on a safe return for their students and staff and the Board is awaiting some further direction on some items such as return to extra curricular activities. For example, the school board is expecting further guidance from partner organizations about engaging in sports safely. Assemblies and field trips are pausing in the immediate future with the board revisiting the subject as soon as possible.
The use of shared spaces such as cafeterias and libraries are being used but HPEDSB are reminding their staff, their administrators and their students about distancing by cohort when ever possible. For secondary students a quad-mester schedule will remain in place.
“Students in our Grade 9-12 grades will be returning to two courses a day for a period of 10-weeks before switching courses for the rest of the 10 weeks of our first semester,” added MacIver.
Many familiar protective factors will still be in place.
“You’ll recognize some very familiar protective factors which we are accustomed to from the previous year,” MacIver stated. “Masking, daily screening for staff and students before attending our schools, cohorting, distancing when possible, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquettes, improved ventilation and cleaning protocols in all of our schools. And certainly for our staff and students they will recall that the in-person learning, this was all part of our processes.”
After launching the plan the senior team at HPEDSB thought it prudent that they offer families, after having a look at what in-person learning would look like, an opportunity to reconsider the registration choices they had made last spring.
“Last week from August 23-26 families were invited to consider any re-registration moves,” said MacIver “And I’m happy to report to trustees a few different pieces of data from here, we did have 155 requests to move between in-person and virtual, we actually had 76 students move to virtual learning and 79 students moved back to brick and mortar. And so you can see a very even spilt and certainly not a high demand so were happy that our families felt confident with their registration from the spring. and this is now an opportunity that has been closed and families will follow our regular procedures about transferring between schools should that be wished in the future.”
There have been updated provincial screeners for both students and staff at HPEDSB and these screening tools will be used prior to entering their buildings and more information will be coming out to families and also to staff regarding them.
“Items that might be of interest to our trustees and our student trustees,” Director MacIver said. “There are screener symptoms that have been removed from the list such as headaches and runny noses, and we know this became problematic sometimes for our students and our families and so these screeners now focus on symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, decrease or loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. And so if any students identify with any of those symptoms they will be asked to remain home and not come to school and to seek further guidelines before returning”
HPEDSB have revised an Outbreak Management protocol, and this is the protocol that HPEDSB schools engage in with the public health providers, these protocols are managed by the Public Health Unit with the schools taking direction when a case occurs in school buildings.
“The key difference for this school year from our past year, is that there are different isolation requirements for contacts who are A-symptomatic and immunized,” stated MacIver. “What this means is with Public Health guidance, students and staff that have been vaccinated may be aloud to return directly to our classrooms if they are A-symptomatic. And from an education perspective this is very encouraging because we do know that students and staff at times had to be out of our schools for a period of 10, and at the beginning 14 days, and that is a great amount of time to be out of our classrooms and so encouraging news to know that, that will be mitigated when a vaccination is in place and with the guidance of Public Health.”
The health unit during this process and looking at the Outbreak Management Protocols, the health unit will be responsible for weighing a number of factors as they consider isolation requirements and testing recommendations. These factors they will be weighing will be beyond just vaccination status and HPEDSB want to ensure they respect the privacy of individuals who work, attend school and enter our learning spaces.
MacIver added, “Just by being respectful of the fact that Public Health will make these determinations and that its not just vaccination status on which they will make these decisions.”
Public Health spoke with HPEDSb administration teams last week and shared some data of vaccination rates in 12-17 year olds within Public Health.
“As of August 24 approximately 70 per cent of individuals aged 12-17 in our public health area unit had their first dose,” said MacIver. “And 52 per cent of age 12-17 had their second dose of the vaccine. And certainly this information is posted on the Public Health website.”
In order to increase access to vaccinations and perhaps an uptake of vaccinations, Public Health will be hosting vaccination clinics in HPEDSB secondary schools.
“These clinics will allow greater access to our area families and students,” MacIver said. “And would be open to our student who are 12 plus in our feeder schools to attend as well. Just of note, all operational items related to the vaccination clinics will be purview of Public Health including gathering consent and following all of their policies and protocols related to vaccinations.”
Regarding vaccinations for students, there is no mandatory vaccination mandate for students at this time.
“There has been provincial discussion about adding it to the list of mandatory vaccinations as stated in the Immunization of School Pupils act but this has not been in place,” stated MacIver. “And we just want to note that this is a legislative responsibility, neither the schools nor the board have access to student immunization information, and we will await further updates from the Ministry of Education or Public Health regarding any move towards mandating vaccinations.
However for staff the Ministry of Education has advised the boards of a vaccination disclosure process for adults that are entering our school buildings.”
Further instruction is anticipated that will require education workers, essential visitors, trustees, bus drivers and board staff to do one of three things, either provide proof of vaccination, provide medical exemption from vaccination or to take a mandatory learning session about vaccinations.
“Following those three choices if any adults in our schools are unvaccinated for any reason there will be a minimum of a weekly antigen testing in place,” Director MacIver said. “And so this is just one more layer of a variety of supports in order to ensure our schools are doing all that we can in order to be as safe in an in-person learning environment. Trustees should know that its anticipated that we will be required to post some data regarding this disclosure, it would be de-personalized and group data regarding this disclosure as well as provide this information to the Ministry of Education.”
HPEDSB will have a ventilation report which will be posted to their public website as of September 3. This report will outline school by school any improvements that have been made as a result of some significant funding HPEDSB received to improve HVAC situations in their schools.
“I am just going to pause here to give many thanks to the facilities department who have been working tirelessly to identify the schools needs, to address them by securing tenders and ensuring the work is getting completed,” said MacIver. “HPE received $5.9 million for the Covid-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream and that was allocated for HVAC upgrades, windows and social distancing initiatives and a bulk of that was put into HVAC upgrades in our schools. You can imagine the amount of tenders and requests that have gone out province wide as a result of this initiative, and so were very happy to see that quite a bit of work has been completed and our facilities department I believe has been very proactive in ensure they were ahead of this curve, but not all the work could be completed for September. It was based on contractor availability, materials availability, the tenders process and some of these complicated factors that are involved.”
Another layer of ventilation improvement has been around High-Efficiency Particulate Absorbing (HEPA) units.
“We currently have 303 HEPA units in our schools that have been distributed already to areas in our schools that do not have full mechanical ventilation,” MacIver said. “And of priority as outlined by the Ministry of Education and also our priority is to ensure these units are in our Kindergarten classrooms where masking is not mandatory but is strongly encouraged and so knowing that we have individuals without masks potentially in our Kindergarten classrooms it was important to get those units in those spaces. In addition, additional units have been place throughout our schools and the board where ever full mechanical ventilation is not available right now.”
HPEDSB continues with a lot of the proactive work that was already in place such as for ventilation, upgraded filters, scheduling an air purge before school and at the end of the day and continue to encourage open windows and outdoor learning spaces whenever it’s available.
MacIver reminded the trustees that student wellbeing and staff wellbeing is foremost on their mind as they return back to schools. Mental health supports have been very proactive and have been in place throughout the summer and will be a part of welcoming students and staff back to schools.
“We also know that attending to our own wellbeing is very important in ensuring all of our staff are ready to engage students in learning,” MacIver expressed. “Certainly we have done incredible things in education in order to meet the needs of our learners and to adjust to all that is happening, we do know we will have more adjustments ahead. This is not likely the end of some of the informations and the adjustments, but I have to say we have a fantastic senior team and school teams that are ready, willing and welcoming to have students back in classes. I would also like to thank the Prince Edward Public Health Unit for the support and collaboration with our schools because that partnership has been key to ensuring that our schools are safe and our administrators have the information they need in order to support student learning.”
For more information on HPEDSB and the Return to Learning Plan please visit http://www.hpedsb.on.ca/2021/return-to-learning-plan-for-the-2021-2022-school-year