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DDSB asks parents to be patient on return-to-school updates

Durham District School Board (DDSB) has notified parents and guardians that there may be a delay in communications on return to in-person learning from Monday, January 17, and asked for patience.

“We understand that this change may be stressful for some families, and we acknowledge the uncertainty that some of you may be feeling during this period of continued change,” said Norah Marsh, DDSB Director of Education, in a letter to families.

“We know how important your child’s educators and school administration are to you in answering questions. With the move back to in-person learning, their first responsibility will be to support the health and safety of students who are in the school building. For that reason, there may be a delay in their communications with individual families. Please be patient as they focus on creating a safe and welcoming school environment,” she asked.

“Your school principal will be in touch with more updates later this week as they become available. We ask for your patience so that we can prepare up-to-date and accurate information to share with you,” Marsh added.

Following are some updates she provided:

Testing and Masks: Ontario Education Ministry has indicated that they are providing two Covid-19 rapid antigen tests for in-person students and staff. DDSB will share more information on this as we receive it. They have also provided a supply of high-quality three-ply cloth masks that schools will be distributing to students. In addition, all staff are being offered non-fit tested N95 masks to wear while working in-person.

Sharing Covid-19 Data in schools: Following a motion from the DDSB Board of Trustees, we are preparing to share data to the extent it is available, on confirmed and presumed cases of Covid-19 in DDSB schools, including self-reporting of Covid-19 test results. We will also be sharing information on school and class closures and unusual rates of absenteeism in schools. Our goal is to be as transparent as possible with families through this public reporting. In addition, we have received direction from the Chief Medical Officer of Health to report absenteeism that is at or above 30 per cent and the Durham Regional Health Department will then support the school in terms of any key steps families or schools need to take. However, we will be reporting out absenteeism publicly by school when it reaches 15 per cent.

Short-Term Temporary FlexTime Asynchronous Remote Learning: We understand that students will be away from school if they have symptoms of Covid-19 or because students are waiting to transfer to DDSB@Home. Classroom educators will do their best to provide FlexTime learning activities for students through their Google Classroom. In addition, to support student learning, we will also be providing a temporary broadcast remote learning program for families. This option will not be available until mid-week next week and will be accessed through a published website link.

Broadcast learning will be like a television broadcast and involve DDSB educators providing instruction for approximately one hour in the morning and approximately one hour in the afternoon with learning activities and materials on key topics from the Ontario curriculum. These materials will not be graded and will link to Ministry of Education provided videos and activities. This will not be interactive, or two-way learning, and is simply intended to provide a short-term measure to support families while students are learning at home and will end in mid-February.

Opportunity to Change Learning Mode: Starting on Friday, January 14, 2022 at 12:01 am, elementary families wanting to change their child’s learning preference to/from DDSB@Home can visit the Parent Portal to make the change. We will be sending you a separate message on Friday with more instructions on how to do this.

If you are satisfied with your current selection, you do not need to do anything further. Your child will remain registered in their current mode of learning. We ask that you please consider both options thoroughly before making your final decision, as we will only be offering the option to change your response until Friday, January 21, 2022 at 11:59 pm. This decision will be considered final for the rest of the school year. If you have decided to switch learning preferences, we are anticipating transfers to take place during the week of February 14.

Kindergarten Mask Requirements: The DDSB Board of Trustees has mandated that students in kindergarten are now required to wear a mask. Here are a few activities that families can practice with students to help encourage wearing a mask.

Student Technology: We will not be asking students to return technology to schools at this time because there may be the possibility of students needing to learn remotely from home for a variety of reasons. However, there may be certain days where you child’s educator asks that students bring in DDSB provided technology for use on that day in-class. We will share additional updates on student technology as they become available.

Potential Impact on School Staffing: With the spread of the Omicron variant, it is expected that more people will be required to self-isolate due to being in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 and this challenge, like in all employment sectors, will have an impact upon the staffing of schools. We will be taking additional steps to help reduce the possibility of school closures including combining classes or assigning students to different classes to ensure adequate and effective supervision. We will continue to be following class size standards in all scenarios.

While closing a school is our last option, we want to highlight the possibility that individual schools may need to close to ensure that children remain safe and have appropriate levels of supervision. While we will endeavour to provide as much notice as possible to parents/guardians, this may not always be possible and there may be times where parents/guardians are notified of a school closure on short notice.

Rotating Planned School Closures: As a strategy to mitigate the emergency closures of schools, the Ministry of Education has authorized up to one day/week where schools may do planned closures.  At this time, the DDSB will not be implementing this strategy. However, we do anticipate that each elementary school will be closed for one day between now and Family Day Weekend to alleviate staffing shortages. More information will be provided from individual schools with notice.

Getting Vaccinated: Vaccination continues to be the most effective strategy to reduce Covid-19 transmission and the severity of symptoms. Please get vaccinated if you have not already done so, and if you are eligible for a second or third dose, please consider booking an appointment to help provide yourself with additional protection. Please read the notice below for an update from the Durham Region Health Department.

Increased Number of Vaccination Appointments

The Health Department has increased Covid-19 vaccine appointments at community immunization clinics in Durham Region. Over 10, 0000 appointments have been made available until January 17. This includes appointments for school staff over 30+ and children/youth 5 – 17 years old. The Health Department continues to open 200 – 400 additional appointments daily for those aged 30 and older related to late cancellations and no shows. To book an appointment, visit www.durham.ca/vaccineappointment

Lakeridge HealthLakeridge Health offers immunization to individuals 5 years of age and older. The clinic is located at 2200 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa and operates from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., 7 days a week. Call 905-571-3344 for more information.

Grandview Kids Clinics: Grandview Kids is offering Covid-19 vaccine appointments for Durham residents 5 – 17 years of age. These clinics provide a child-friendly environment in an accessible building. Children and youth do not need to be a client of Grandview Kids to access this service. To book an appointment for your child or youth, visit Grandview Kids.

Carea Immunization Clinics: The south Oshawa location of Carea Community Health Centre (115 Grassmere Ave., Oshawa) is offering Moderna vaccine to individuals aged 30 and older, by appointment only. First, second and third doses are available between January 10th and January 25th. Call 1-877-227-3217 for more information and to book an appointment.

GO-VAXX Mobile Clinics: Covid-19 vaccines are also available for individuals ages 5 and older through the provincial GO-VAXX program. This program uses GO transit buses as vaccine clinics. These clinics are available by appointment only. Find out when, where and how to book an appointment to get vaccinated at a GO-VAXX bus clinic.

Pharmacies and Health Care Providers: Designated health care providers and pharmacy locations in the community are offering Covid-19 vaccines to individuals 5 years of age and older. Appointments are typically required. Check with the health care provider or pharmacy directly before you go.

In her update to families of secondary school students, Marsh added the following updates:

Potential Impact on School Staffing: With the spread of the Omicron variant, it is expected that more people will be required to self-isolate due to being in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 and this challenge, like in all employment sectors, will have an impact upon the staffing of schools. We will be taking additional steps to help reduce the possibility of school closures including combining classes or assigning students to different classes to ensure adequate and effective supervision. We will continue to be following class size standards in all scenarios.

While closing a school is our last option, we want to highlight the possibility that individual schools may need to close to ensure that children remain safe and have appropriate levels of supervision. While we will endeavour to provide as much notice as possible to parents/guardians, this may not always be possible and there may be times where parents/guardians are notified of a school closure on short notice.

Rotating Planned School Closures: As a strategy to mitigate the emergency closures of schools, the Ministry of Education has authorized up to one day/week where schools may do planned closures.  At this time, the DDSB will not be implementing this strategy. However, we do anticipate that each elementary school will be closed for one day between now and Family Day Weekend to alleviate staffing shortages. More information will be provided from individual schools with notice.

Masks & tests supplies

Stephen Lecce, Ontario Minister of Education, and Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, yesterday announced the launch of school-based vaccine clinics for youth and staff, along with a significant deployment of rapid antigen tests. These new measures build on the province providing millions of high-quality masks for staff and students and thousands more HEPA filtration units.

Current vaccination rates among children aged 12 to 17 years old are encouraging with more than 82 per cent having received two doses. Of children aged five to 11 years old, nearly 50 per cent have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a provincial statement. To further encourage voluntary vaccination for children aged 5 to 11, the government has asked school boards to work with local Public Health Units (PHUs) to add school-day vaccination clinics for students (i.e. during instructional hours). School boards are also expected to work with local PHUs and share documents and other information with families, such as resources available at https://Covid-19.ontario.ca/Covid-19-vaccines-children-and-youth.

In the coming days, parents will receive a form offering the opportunity to safely and conveniently provide public health units the authority to vaccinate their child at a school-based vaccine clinic.

To help stabilize workforce and student participation, beginning the week of January 17, the Ontario government will also provide rapid antigen tests for students and staff in public elementary and secondary schools, along with children and staff in child care settings. Over 3.9 million rapid antigen tests are being shipped to school boards this week, with additional tests to be delivered next week. The use of the tests is for symptomatic individuals, who will be required to take two rapid tests 24 hours apart, and upon negative results can return to class.

Additional measures in place to prepare for the return to in-person learning include the following:

  • High-Quality Masks: Providing access to more than 10 million non-fit-tested N95 masks to all education and child care staff – the only province to do so – with more than four million three-ply cloth masks for students recently shipped for use in schools.
  • Improved Ventilation: Deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to learning environments, building on the ventilation improvement measures already in place at every school across Ontario, including the more than 70,000 HEPA filter units and other ventilation devices that have been provided and mechanical ventilation upgrades.
  • Stricter Screening: Updated and stricter screening requirements for students and staff, including daily onsite confirmation of screening.
  • Historic Funding: School board access to $1.6 billion in resources to protect against Covid-19, including supports for mental health, technology, over 2,350 additional staff and ventilation.
  • Access to Additional Educators: Access to retired educators for a longer period of time following a recent agreement with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, and access to first year teacher candidates who are deemed eligible.
  • Enhanced Cohort system and Cleaning: New time-limited cohort protocols to limit direct and indirect contacts by pausing high-contact extra curricular sports, stricter lunch cohort requirements, and elevated cleaning requirements at all schools.

To further support staffing stability and reduce disruption for students, families, and education and child care staff, the government is further expanding access to vaccines by:

  • Supporting a mass vaccination clinic at the International Centre with dedicated times for education and child care staff
  • Opening 10 vaccination clinics across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area that offer dedicated time slots for education and child care staff
  • Encouraging public health units to support accelerated access to boosters.

More than five million Ontarians have already received a booster shot and the above vaccination options are in addition to those also being offered locally by public health units across the province.

Quick Facts

  • Reopening schools is supported by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, local Medical Officers of Health, and the Children’s Health Coalition, representing Ontario’s pediatric hospitals, children’s mental health agencies and children’s rehabilitation centres. New interim guidance has been issued for PHUs – Covid-19: Interim Guidance for Schools and Child Care: Omicron Surge.
  • In 2021-22, Ontario will continue to provide temporary Covid-19 supports of more than $1.6 billion to school boards throughout the year. This will provide schools with a wide range of supports, including for student mental health, the hiring of additional staff, up to 625 additional school-focused nurses in public health units, providing school communities with ongoing support for infection prevention and control, remote learning technology, and health and safety measures in student transportation.
  • Parents and caregivers who have questions about Covid-19 vaccines for children and youth can visit Covid-19 Vaccine Consult Service (sickkids.ca) to book a confidential phone appointment with a SickKids clinician.
  • The Ontario government is allocating significant investments to Ontario schools, including $600 million in net new investments for school ventilation, $1.4 billion to renew and maintain existing schools and $14 billion over ten years for new schools, additions, and major renovations.
  • Ontario is also making available $85.5 million for learning recovery and renewal to help schools across the province mitigate the effects of learning disruptions as a result of Covid-19. This investment will support student mental health and well-being, reading and math for young learners, and student re-engagement.
  • School boards are being requested to collect information on Covid-19 booster dose coverage for individuals subject to school board immunization disclosure policies, as directed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health.

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