Monday night’s meeting of the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) gave Director of Education Katherine MacIver an opportunity to apprise Trustees on the return to in-person learning.
MacIver offered a summary of some of the happenings over the past three weeks since the winter break ended.
“There have been changes to the COVID-19 isolation and screening and guidelines that are happening within our schools,” Director MacIver stated to the board. “We did take an opportunity prior to returning to in-person to meet with staff in each of our schools to go through what some of these changes where in order that we were well prepared for the first day back, and then mother nature had a different plan for us. So despite the weather disruptions and the transportation disruptions of last week, I am happy to tell you that we heard and spoke to some of our principals who one of them in their words said, ‘Kids were happy, happy, happy to be back and my staff were happy, happy, happy to be back too’, so it seemed to be a sentiment shared across the system.”
In order for HPEDSB to be prepared for students and staff to return, the school board received N-95 masks and three-ply cloth masks for students if they need them. These materials were distributed to all schools. In addition to masks, HPEDSB received their share of the Rapid Antigen Tests and distributed two tests to every elementary school child, two tests to every staff member and the Board is looking to secure more to ensure secondary students have two tests as well.
“I need to take a moment to recognize the work of our facility staff,” expressed Director MacIver. “It took them 133 combined hours in order to de-kit all of the tests that were received, package the tests into sets of two, make sure an appropriate number of tests went to each school and then deliver them which also included making sure they did not get to cold nor to hot during the delivery process, so I just wanted to take an opportunity to publicly thank that team.”
Locally, anticipated staff shortages did not occur and the Director noted administration were pleasantly surprised staff absences are about the same rate as last Fall. And while the school board was prepared to send centralized staff to schools, that was not required.
“We did anticipate we might have potential staff shortages going into this reopening and I am reassured that our staff absences have maintained the same occurrence numbers we were seeing through the Fall,” Director MacIver said. “So well were still having shortages as part of availability of supply staff, it is not due to this wave of the pandemic.”
HPEDSB is also continuing to work with Hastings Prince Edward Public Health (HPEPH) as principals are required to report certain levels of absences to Public Health.
“Right now we’re working very closely with Public Health on a number of different things,” said MacIver. “One of them is the new reporting tool, so because of the inconsistency in tests both PCR and the Rapid Antigen test, the availability, the testing requirements and the reporting requirements we have moved to a reporting requirement around absences in our school for both staff and students, when our absences are at a certain rate we do have consultations with Public Health regarding that. Public Health is very forth right in assuring us that we have seen very little transmission within schools.”
The Director added any of the situations where the Board has multiple cases of students, these transmissions can usually be traced back to community events.
“The reality is, is that COVID is in our communities and we know there will be times when COVID may be present in our schools, however we really really, really want to stress the screening protocol and that our families and our students should every day be checking, doing the screening process to find out if they are well enough to attend school and very simply if your sick stay home,” MacIver said. “We have to stress to our families and to our students that self monitoring, self checking first thing in the morning is very important and we will ensure we have connections to our students who are staying home, whether through isolation or because they may not be feeling well, they may have one symptom, we can keep them connected through our online classrooms.”
Through the schools, HPEPH is arranging two vaccination clinics for 5-11 year-olds in select schools during school hours.
Please note vaccinations for these students are voluntary and require a signed parent consent form.
“We’ve been instructed by the Ministry of Education to share both vaccination letters and consent forms with families,” Director MacIver said. “Parents may choose to return these consent forms or attend a vaccination clinic with their child that will be held in our schools and we have two scheduled for this week.”
At the earliest possibility HPESDB are looking forward to opportunities to return to extra curricular activities in the schools. Although those are paused for the time being, HPEDSB has seen reassuring data and heard reassuring things from Public Health and are hoping to return to normal very soon.
For more information on HPEDSB please visit https://www.hpedsb.on.ca