Students returning to school this fall will be greeted by a much different environment, one that will include symptom checks as soon as they step inside the main door and directional arrows to keep them moving as they make their way to class.
The Toronto District School Board has opted to delay the start of the academic year until Sept. 15 so that it has extra time to prepare for the return of students but on Thursday CP24 was given a tour of both Scarborough's Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts and East York’s George Webster Elementary School to get a sense of what sort of steps are being taken to ensure that the resumption of in-person classes is as safe as possible.
So what can students expect?
To start with each and every student arriving for the day will be greeted by a staff member who will check to make sure that they are wearing a mask and then question them on whether they have any respiratory symptoms.
If a student does display symptoms, such as a cough or sore throat, they will then be taken to an isolation room where they will be isolated from the rest of the population until a parent is able to pick them up.
If they don’t display symptoms they will be asked to sanitize their hands and will then be sent on their way.
Inside the hallways of Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts arrows have also been set up to ensure that students can only travel in one direction and garbage and recycling bins have been strategically placed to act as barriers. Some stairwells have also been designated as one-direction only with the signs on the doors leading to those stairwells reading “entrance only” or “exit only.”
Once they arrive at their classroom, students will be expected to sanitize their hands once again and then sit down in their assigned seat, which have all been separated into single file rows in order to maintain two metres of distance.
Should they need to go to the school office for some reason they will be greeted by a secretary who will work behind a sheet of plexiglass. And forget about the cafeteria and other congregate settings for now. It will be off-limits and students will instead be expected to eat in their classrooms or outside.
Lockers won’t be assigned either, as schools are trying to cut down on the number of opportunities for students to congregate.
“We are really working together in order to sort of make students and staff feel that we are taking all the precautions that are possible,” Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts Principal Tom Lazarou told CP24 during the tour. “I am hoping once we get going parents will feel a little more at ease that we are making sure that their child is safe.”
Secondary school students will attend classes on alternating days
The TDSB’s plans call for secondary school students to attend classes in person on alternating days and take part via remote learning when they are not physically in the classroom.
Elementary school students have the option of virtual learning or attending classes in person full-time but the TDSB is hiring hundreds of extra teachers to reduce the size of classes as much as possible.
At Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, classes will begin at 8:45 a.m. and end at 12:30 p.m. with a brief nutritional break midway through the day.
Lazarou said that there will be enhanced cleaning throughout the school, especially in bathrooms and other high-traffic areas.
The set-up is similar at George Webster Elementary School but some additional steps have been taken to further reduce the risk of viral spread, including the removal of shared computers and books from classrooms.
Principal Lise Medd said that the school’s physical education teacher is also planning a number of outdoor lessons in which things like pool noodles and hula hoops could be utilized to ensure students keep two metres of distance at all times.
“I think we all have a little bit of anxiety however we have been given a lot of support by the board and we also have a wonderful team of teachers, support staff, administrators and caretakers,” she said of the upcoming year.
At Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts teachers will lead classes of no more than 15 students at a time. The class sizes at George Webster Elementary School, meanwhile, will be capped at 26 students in junior and senior kindergarten, 20 students in Grades 1 through 3 and 27 students in Grades 4 through 8.
There will however, be lower class sizes in TDSB elementary schools that are located in neighbourhoods with higher levels of COVID-19 infections.
“Students will be cohorted. The cohort will stay together and will eat lunch in their classrooms,” Medd said.
Students excited to return to school
During Thursday’s tour at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts several students were given a sneak-peek inside the premises so they could have an idea of what to expect once classes resume next month.
Lucas Provias, who will be going into Grade 11, told CP24 that he was expecting things to be different but the changes were more substantial than he envisioned.
“Before I came in I knew it would be a lot different but it is actually more different than I thought it would be,” he said. “I feel pretty good about the precautions. I think they are well thought out and will keep everyone safe.”
Provias said that he is excited to return to in-person classes, even if things don’t quite return to the way they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That sentiment was also echoed by fellow Grade 11 student Vanessa Trumpman.
She said that seeing the hallways of the school reminded her of how much she missed learning in the classroom.
“Now that I see it, I miss everything. I miss how it used to be and just seeing the lockers and all the classrooms did make me miss it,” she said. “I am excited.”