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DDSB plans for reopening of schools

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

The Durham District School Board (DDSB) is preparing to open in September for the 2020-2021 school year, and things may look a little different.

Norah Marsh, director of education for DDSB presented an update to the board recently on plans staff are preparing for the fall semester.

The board is following the Reopening Plan for the 2020-2021 School Year released by the Ministry of Education, which could see students in three possible scenarios.

Scenario A sees students in a normal school day with enhanced public health safety protocols.

Scenario B is a modified school day with routines altered, including a smaller cohort of students, no more than 15 per classroom, with students attending either on alternative days or alternative weeks. This scenario also sees students in a blended learning system with some in-class work and some remote learning.

Scenario C sees students learning remotely from home.

“The primary considerations in the planning process based on the original ministry communication, is the health and safety of students and staff, transportation consideration, cohort size, and our responsibility to uphold legal requirements, such as the human rights code and collective agreements,” says Marsh. “While limiting the number of adults working with any one cohort of students is the ideal, it is not practical in every context, given the operational requirements of lunch breaks, qualifications of staff, and preparation time that needs to be provided to staff as part of the collective agreements,” she adds.

Feedback was sought from families, students and staff through a survey in consideration of the reopening model.

Results from the survey show 60 per cent of parents who responded indicated they are “likely or very likely to have their children attend school this fall,” says Marsh. “For planning purposes, that means approximately one-third of our students may not be in attendance but will be expecting remote learning opportunities,” she adds, noting this may fluctuate throughout the course of the year.

“To date, our planning has focused on possible schedules for scenario B, cleaning protocols for scenarios A and B, specific protocols for COVID-19 suspected cases and outbreaks, and consistent standards for scenario C,” says Marsh, noting in school planning and transportation will need to adapt as family needs evolve.

According to Superintendent Heather Mundy, Durham Student Transportation Services (DSTS) routes more than 28,000 students across the region.

With the adaptive model, Mundy says there would be a capacity of 24 students plus siblings on a 70-passenger bus.

“Even with cohorts travelling on alternate days, we will require multiple buses for each school site while still working with reduced workforce drivers,” says Mundy, noting DSTS is planning their routes with a 90 per cent retention built into the plan.

Mundy says DSTS is working on cohort planning per route, and will then begin rerouting the entire system to accommodate these requirements, “keeping the health and safety of students and operators at the forefront,” she says.

Marsh says the DDSB has been working closely with the Durham Catholic District School Board as the transportation is shared.

“We recognize we’re developing a variety of proposals for reopening…having a common model is in our best interest,” says Marsh.

“Staff remain dedicated to improving the models based upon the provincial discussions that will occur, but for now it is fair to say we favour the ‘ABAB’ alternate model,” says Marsh.

An updated plan on how learning for students will look in September will come back to the board of trustees at their August meeting.