Submitted by Justine Bell, OCDSB School Trustee for Somerset-Kitchissippi
I’ve received a lot of emails with concerns over our back-to-school plans. Many parents have asked questions: How will my child be safe without the additional provincial funding that was allocated to the education sector this year? Why would we move forward with a quadmester system for high school students? Why did they need to choose online or in-person school many months before September? The list of questions is long and, I’ll be honest, I have yet to meet someone who has all the answers (or what I would consider satisfactory ones).
Without all the answers, how do we decide on our back-to-school plans?
To give you a sense of the stakeholders involved in informing our decisions: we have students, parents, the board administration, educators, trustees, Ottawa Public Health, the Ministry of Education, unions, community organizations — the list is long.
All these stakeholders have continually brought their perspectives and evidence-based advice on what has worked and hasn’t this year. The board administration has taken the feedback and has come up with a plan for next year, in consultation with OPH and in line with ministry guidelines.
Most agree that student learning and well-being is best supported through full-time in-person learning. This has been clearly stated by students, parents and staff in both Thoughtexchange consultations (in October and February); by medical experts; parent organizations and others. The feedback has emphasized that in-person learning supports mental health and well-being; has the capacity to support social engagement for children; and better meets the needs of young children, English-language learners and vulnerable students. However, for some families, the return to in-person learning presents challenges and the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual (OCV) school provides an alternative for them.
Most of our stakeholders would agree that we must put safety first and that students and the education system thrive with predictability and stability, none of which is assured in a pandemic.
Over this past year, the evidence shows schools can safely operate with limited evidence of transmission of COVID-19 with appropriate protocols in place. Based on this evidence, our plan is to continue with the current safety precautions in schools.
We expect that as vaccine distribution continues, the risk of spread will be reduced. Over the course of the next school year, we hope to resume regular operations incrementally, as it is safe to do so.
For more information on our plans, please visit the OCDSB website. You can also write to me, and I’ll do my best to get you an evidence-based answer.