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DDSB getting some COVID funding for next year

Parents have until mid-August to decide between in-person and virtual learning for next year

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express

Durham District School Board’s (DDSB) director of education says information is starting to trickle in from the province on what the return to school might look like in September.

While DDSB Director of Education Norah Marsh says there’s no news yet if students will be returning back to in-person learning for this school year. The province has recently given Durham $6.7 million in funding, which will be dedicated to COVID-19 for next year.

“That is in comparison to approximately $23 million that we used this year for COVID planning and funding for special initiatives associated with health and safety,” says Marsh.

“We were pleased to get some funding in terms of what September may look like.”

Marsh gave the update to the board of trustees at Monday night’s board meeting.

The money comes as part of the province’s $2 billion funding announcement to “advance and protect public education for the 2021-22 school year.”

“Our government is investing more in public education than any government in Ontario history,” says Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. “As we continue to work with the Chief Medical Officer of Health to evaluate the safe resumption of in-class learning, our number one priority remains safety in the classroom.”

Lecce says $1.6 billion will be made available to protect school safety “while investing in the long-term success of students with more support for reading, math, mental health, and special education needs.”

The province also recently announced the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine to include kids between the ages of 12 and 17, and their families.

“We understand that the pandemic continues to evolve and it’s very positive news around vaccinations,” says Marsh.

She says the memo from the province states that first vaccinations will be happening in June, with a commitment that all 12 to 17 year olds will have the opportunity to receive their second vaccine prior to the return of school in September.

She adds Durham Region’s health department is planning the vaccine rollout, adding more information will be provided to parents and families by August in terms of what the upcoming school year will look like from a health and safety perspective.

“This will help us determine the best way to support learning options for all students and to be as adaptive and responsive as possible to support students and families,” reads a DDSB letter to parents.

“We recognize that this is an evolving situation and will do our very best to be responsive to the needs of families for the upcoming school year,” the letter continues.

The Ministry of Education also recently provided some direction in terms of secondary schooling, says Marsh, noting it will potentially be a quadmester for all school boards and doing a maximum of two courses.

“We’re going to be meeting with the ministry [and we’re] hoping we will be able to return to a semestered system with four courses,” notes Marsh.

She adds that secondary schools may need to remain at 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. due to busing requirements.

DDSB parents and families also had to decide whether they wanted to register their child for in-person or virtual learning in September.

According to the DDSB, parents originally had until Tuesday, May 4 to determine what learning option they wanted to register their child for. However, due to feedback received from concerned families, the DDSB says families will now have a one-week window in mid-August to confirm their choice.

In a recent update to families, Marsh says, “We sincerely appreciate the feedback received from families. We believe that this revised approach will provide an opportunity for all elementary families to make a final decision before the start of the 2021-22 school year at a time when the COVID-19 situation will be much clearer.

Marsh says more information will be communicated to families closer to mid-August.