Hands-on programming is in, but lockers will stay locked.
In a letter sent to parents late Friday afternoon, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board director of education Frances Bagley outlined what families need to know about this fall’s return to school.
“Our goal is to provide our students and staff with the best possible learning and instructional experience in the safest way possible. We are hopeful that as we move through 2021-2022 we will be able to slowly and safely return to some of the activities and practices you would find in a more typical school year,” Bagley wrote in her letter to families.
The Catholic board has now provided a 77-page document to families about the safe return to school this year, as well as a one-page document that highlights what’s changing over last year’s plans.
Changes include mask requirements for students from kindergarten to Grade 12 while in school, but masks will not be required outdoors. Elementary students will participate in recess in the schoolyard with some restrictions in place to allow for physical distancing and to limit groups congregating.
Secondary schools will use a quadmester model, but with two classes per day. The year will be split into four terms instead of the traditional two terms.
Only essential visitors will be permitted in schools. Cafeterias, libraries and learning commons will be open, but food services will not be operating.
Hands-on programming such as physical education, music, co-operative education, and some extra-curricular activities such as sports and clubs will resume with health and safety restrictions in place.
Lockers will not be used in high schools.
Field trips, assemblies and masses are on pause at this time.
All students and staff must complete and submit a daily online COVID-19 screening assessment. It will not be mandatory that students ages 12-17 be vaccinated to attend school in-person. Public health will be hosting vaccination clinics in schools periodically as mandated by the Ministry of Health.
“We want our families to know and understand that we must continue to take our direction from public health authorities and the Ministry of Education,” noted Bagley. “Many of the protocols and decisions around how our schools operate, as we continue to navigate COVID-19, are mandated by them, based on research, best practice and expert advice.”
According to information from the board, elementary families will receive an email prior to Sept. 7 regarding classroom and teacher placement, including those participating in virtual learning.
Students who are registered in virtual learning will receive login information from their teachers beginning Sept. 7.
School principals will be communicating first-day procedures directly with their individual school communities.
According to the highlights document, the Catholic board has made a $14.75-million investment in COVID-related maintenance and infrastructure renewal projects with $8.1 million specifically for ventilation improvements. All projects are targeted for completion by Dec 31.
For the 2021/2022 school year in the Catholic board, 15,128 students are enrolled in elementary schools, while 7,082 students are enrolled in secondary schools.
This year, about 457 elementary students and 151 secondary students have opted for the online schooling option. All others have opted to be in-class.
This is a marked decrease from the 2020/2021 school year, where about 3,189 elementary students opted for virtual options. As the Catholic board switched to a hybrid model for secondary students mid-year, numbers for virtual attendance were not available.
“This year, the vast majority of students are returning to face-to-face learning,” wrote Bagley. “Our protocols and practices were successfully implemented in all of our schools and board office locations last school year and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to provide our students and staff with a safe place to learn and work.”