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School board prepares for students to return following release of provincial plan

The province having last week released its program for getting students back to school in September, the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) has released a plan of its own.

The return to classes will be anything but normal, and the experience will differ for elementary and high school students.

Primary school children ranging from Kindergarten to Grade 8 will be in a cohort that will limit contact to approximately 50 other students, a new bubble on top of the 10 additional contacts students are allowed outside of school if they are following social distancing protocols. The outlined full return to the classroom will be somewhat similar to what students saw before the pandemic closed schools at March break, with about 300 minutes of face-to-face instruction.

Students from Grade 4 and up will be required to wear a mask, and the younger grades are encouraged to do so as well, though officials note many may not be able to adjust at that early of an age.  Staff will be provided medical-grade masks. Physical distancing within classroom environments remain a concern, with parents encouraged to begin educating their children if they chose the return to physical school option. Signs reminding children to keep distance and practice health hygiene will be posted throughout facilities, as well. Likewise, hallways are being redesigned for one-way flow.

Parents are required to fill out a confirmation of attendance form, which is available on the WRDSB website.

There are also options for families that are not comfortable with their child returning to the classroom. A virtual Ontario curriculum-based platform providing about 300 minutes of “learning opportunities” will be posted each day.

For secondary schools, classes will be divided into two cohorts with about 15 students in each grouping. There will be both face-to-face and E-learning. Students will be enrolled in an adaptive/hybrid model approximating 9.5 hours a week and ensures students are still engaging in the required 110 hours of learning, the board explained.

Officials estimate high school students will attend classes in person for 50 per cent of instructional days. For those who wish not would return, there will be similar E-learning options totaling approximately 11 hours of education.

Dr. Julie Emili, the region’s acting associate medical officer of health, this week explained the protocols that will have to be in place for classes to resume.

“Schools are one more part of our community that has to be opened. The province’s system, a very balanced approach to encourage mental health/well-being and development in our school population, is safe and sending them to an environment that’s safe. We know that all these measures that we are putting in place in our community and workplaces have worked and they’ve done a similar approach,” she said after reviewing the WRDSB plan.

With health officials mindful that a new outbreak is possible, the school board has prepared three learning delivery models: a full return with enhanced health and safety protocols, adaptive/hybrid model, and full distance learning should the schools have to be closed down again.

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