TDSB chair says that boards should have had information about return to school weeks ago
Published Thursday, August 5, 2021 4:47PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 5, 2021 5:34PM EDT
The chair of Ontario’s largest school board is expressing his frustrations with the Ford government’s decision to hold off on releasing its return to the classroom guidance until well into the summer.
The Ministry of Education sent a 26-page document to boards earlier this week that outlines the policies and procedures that will be put in place once students return to classrooms next month.
The guidance will see many activities that were put on hold last year resume, such as extra curriculars, field trips, school assemblies and competitive sports.
But schools are still waiting to find out the answers to a number of other questions as the ministry is yet to release information about how it will handle outbreaks and whether vaccinated students will be treated differently when they develop symptoms or are exposed to a positive case.
During a press conference on Thursday afternoon, TDSB Chair Alexander Brown acknowledged that the board would have liked to have received information about the fall weeks ago and is now scrambling to prepare for the return of students in a little over a months time.
It is a situation, he said, that could have been avoided.
“We had expected to have more information from the government earlier than this. We would have been in a much better position to let the parents know what the full plan was if we had gotten this weeks before,” he said.
The TDSB began sending out emails to parents today to determine whether they want their children to return to the classroom full time or participate in virtual learning.
Parents will have a week to make up their minds with Aug. 12 set as the deadline for registering for virtual school.
Brown said that the date was initially set based on the expectation that boards would be notified earlier in the summer about the plan for the fall.
Under that scenario, he said that the TDSB would have been able to provide parents with much more detail about what the return to school would look like.
Instead, he said that the board is fielding a lot of questions from curious parents about how rapid testing will roll out in schools and the plan for handling outbreaks.
“We had expected to have more information from the government by earlier than this and that's why the decision was made to do this around the middle of August so that we could get that information, work on a plan and then have something that parents would be able to see in making that decision,” he said. “Right now we are probably going to be working 24-seven…So as we move forward, more information is going to be coming out.”
While much about the return to school remains unclear, the TDSB has said that it is sticking with a policy requiring that all staff and students wear masks indoors for now and will not follow the ministry’s guidance, which makes an exception for kindergarten students.
Meanwhile, discussions are ongoing about how to implement other aspects of the return to school plan, including the revival of contact sports which the Ford government approved for indoor settings on Wednesday after previously saying that they only be allowed outdoors.
“There are committees going on right now at the TDSB looking at every single detail,” TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz told reporters. “Look, we just got the word two days ago and I am being completely transparent with you. We need to take what we heard and then we need to make sure it can happen at the TDSB. Do we have the staff? What are we dong with masks? How big is our field? It is a huge, huge system and we need to make it work.”
Under the ministry’s guidance, both elementary school students and secondary school students will return to the classroom five days a week in the fall.
Last year secondary school students only attended classes part-time as part of a rotating schedule with another cohort.