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Message from the Director: Return to School Update

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Categories: Parent/Guardian Communication, Happenings @ TDSB

The Government of Ontario confirmed yesterday that, as scheduled, students will return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17. While we continue to await some additional details on some items, we wanted to provide as much information as possible to help ensure a safer return to in-person learning next week.

COVID-19 Vaccinations: We continue to work with Toronto Public Health to support the rollout of vaccines for children aged 5 and older to support families who want their child to receive the vaccine and ensure strong protection against COVID-19. Book a vaccine appointment now.

Daily Screening: Staying home when you are sick is one of the most important things we can do to slow the spread of COVID-19. Toronto Public Health has strengthened its screening tool, based on provincial direction, that all students and staff are expected to do before coming to school each day. Please review and become familiar with the screening tool, including the second page which provides direction on isolation measures in a variety of scenarios based on age and vaccination status. Please complete the TDSB Health Pass or Health Screening App daily.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) Update: Since the beginning of the pandemic, the TDSB has been working closely with TPH on health and safety measures inside our schools and sites, including recently as we prepared for the return to school. They provided a parent/guardian letter today regarding returning to in-person school and COVID-19 Omicron guidance changes.

Masks: All students continue to be required to wear a mask while in school buildings. Every school has a supply of high quality, 3-ply cloth masks available for students. Please reach out to your Principal if you require some. At this time, students are not required to wear masks outside as long as they remain within their cohort.

HEPA Filters: There are more than 16,000 HEPA filters in all occupied learning spaces across the TDSB. Following a recent government announcement, nearly 300 additional units will be delivered in the upcoming weeks. Learn more about the updates the TDSB has made to improve ventilation.

Bussing: While bussing will continue as normal, please note that service disruptions are likely as a result of the impact of COVID-19 on bus operator staffing. We will try to give families as much notice as possible should we learn of a delay or cancellation.  

Lunches: While this will depend on unique circumstances at each school, physical distancing will be maximized and students will eat at different times, where possible. 

Extra-Curricular Activities: All in-person extra-curricular activities that involve the mixing of cohorts, singing and use of wind instruments, will be paused temporarily. The TDSB is currently working with Toronto Public Health on next steps. 

Mental Health and Well-Being: Navigating the pandemic has brought forward a number of challenges and we continue to prioritize students’ mental health and well-being. You can access supports and resources directly on our website, including mental health and well-being toolkits, virtual drop-in office hours for parents/caregivers, and culturally-responsive resources.  

COVID-19 Testing: The government has indicated that Rapid Antigen Tests will be provided for elementary students and elementary and secondary staff when they return to school next week. Tests will be provided to secondary students when additional supplies are provided by the Ministry later in the week. Staff and students are encouraged to use them at home when symptomatic. If symptoms appear when students or staff are at school, a take home PCR test may be available to them while supplies from the Ministry last.

COVID-19 Case Reporting: The Ministry of Education is no longer collecting COVID-19 case numbers from school boards. At the TDSB, when schools become aware of a PCR or Rapid Antigen Test confirmed case of COVID-19, directly impacted classes will continue to be informed. As the Ministry of Education has stated that classes will no longer be dismissed as a result of a case of COVID-19, that guidance will no longer be provided by the school. Instead, parents/guardians and/or students will review the daily COVID-19 screening tool to determine if they are permitted to return to school. While individual classes will continue to be provided with COVID-19 case information, the COVID-19 Advisories page on the TDSB website will no longer be updated.

Reporting Absences: Schools are required to monitor and report to the Ministry on their student and staff absences and any school closures. Data related to this will be published starting on January 24 at www.ontario.ca. If absences exceed 30% of the school population, the TDSB is required to notify Toronto Public Health. We will continue to consult with TPH to determine if a lower threshold is more appropriate. 

School Staffing: As we anticipate an increase in staff absences as a result of COVID-19, we have identified a number of strategies to  assist in maintaining adequate staffing levels in schools to support health and safety measures and supervision for students, including: increasing the number of staff on our daily occasional roster and redeployment of central staff to help support schools that may be facing staffing shortages and where possible, enabling retired teachers to work up to 95 days. As a last resort, it may be necessary to consider operational closures of classes and/or schools due to staffing shortages depending on local circumstances. In the future, it may become necessary to use the Ministry-supported strategy of one day per week of remote learning where students would not attend school in-person. This would allow the total number of available occasional teachers to cover a fewer number of schools.  

Short Term Remote Learning: We know that some families and students will choose not to return to in-person learning for a period of time for a variety of reasons. During this transitional time, it is incredibly important for students to remain connected to their school, classroom and teacher. Educators will continue to update virtual learning platforms. For elementary students at this time, simultaneous (live) learning will not be available for those choosing not to return in-person learning. For secondary students, simultaneous (live) learning may be an option as many classes were already being delivered to both in-person and virtual students at the same time. Additional learning resources will also be available on the TDSB website beginning next week for families and students to access directly, if interested. These resources are to supplement classroom learning and not to replace the direct connection with a student’s class and in-person teacher. More information will be shared once it is available.

Secondary Assessment and Evaluation Update: We understand that some students and families have concerns regarding Semester 1 final marks during this time where we have moved between in-person and remote learning so close to the end of the semester. Further, we know that there is the potential for greater levels of missed class time and absenteeism due to the Omicron virus. For secondary students, final marks will not be negatively affected by the final evaluations (final performance tasks, interviews, etc.). Marks will reflect work done up until December 17, 2021. Teachers will continue to assign learning tasks and culminating activities and provide feedback; however, this work will only be taken into consideration for Semester 1 final marks if it improves the student’s mark. This means that a student’s mark will not drop as a result of end of semester evaluations. Credit Rescue Days for Semester 1 remain as scheduled for January 28, 31 and February 1, 2022. 

Thank you for your continued patience and flexibility as we work to resume in-person learning and continue to prioritize health and safety as well as student learning, engagement, and well-being. We will also continue to provide further information as it becomes available.

We look forward to seeing you on Monday.

Sincerely,

Colleen Russell-Rawlins
Director of Education

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