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Catholic school board releases back-to-school plan



by Adam Gault 

Representatives from the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) held open houses at two of its schools on Thursday, August 6, to demonstrate safety precautions that have been put in place to protect students and staff when they return to elementary and high school this coming September.

  This came in the wake of the release of a 30-page document on August 5, that broke down its COVID-19 risk reduction strategy, which is based on evidence provided by the Ministry of Education, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, the Hospital for Sick Children, and research shared by school districts throughout the world.

  Speaking to media prior to a tour of St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School in LaSalle and St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Amherstburg, WECDSB Communications Coordinator, Stephen Fields, explained scheduling with class cohorts, frequent sanitizing, social distancing, self-monitoring for symptoms, and remote learning would be just some of the tools implemented to ensure a safe return to the classroom.

  “We’re committed 100 percent to making sure that we are providing the safest possible environment for our students and our staff when they return to school on September 8th,” Fields said. “This risk reduction strategy is a general guideline, and it’s going to look a little bit different at every school as principals adapt it, and modify it for their individual buildings.”

  As part of these measures, students from Grades 4-12 will be required to wear face coverings at all times, and all students must bring a backpack for their personal belongings as there will be no locker usage provided.

  While elementary school students will follow a conventional school schedule with enhanced safety protocols in place, secondary school students will take part in an adaptive “quadmester” model, where they will attend two periods a day with their scheduled cohorts (student body divided in half) as opposed to the typical four period model.

  Cohorts A and B will attend WECDSB high schools on a two-week alternating schedule, with each of their two periods lasting around 150-minutes. Students will attend their first scheduled two periods from September 8 to November 11, and then their subsequent periods from November 12 to February 1.

  “The rationale for “cohorting” is to be able to facilitate contract tracing amongst the students in the two periods,” WECDSB Executive Superintendent, Emelda Byrne, explained. “With only two periods, there’s less transition time, and less direct and indirect contact with students.”

  While these measures are being introduced with the health and wellbeing of all school attendees in mind, WECDSB administration acknowledged that there will be challenges in their implementation, as well as what the mental impact of these measures will be on students.

  “We can anticipate that some students will need some support in realizing that those typical hugs or high fives or handshakes are not now the norm,” WECDSB Superintendent of Education, Melissa Farrand, added. “We also know that they are going to gravitate to one another and that’s part of children’s development, so we’re not going to stifle that. We are going to reinforce those touched surfaces on a regular basis, as well as the handwashing and respiratory etiquette hygiene practices.”

  Parents will still have the option of their children completing remote learning, if that is their preference, but will have to register and inform the WECDSB of their intentions before classes begin in September.

  The complete WECDSB Back to School Plan can be found along with registration information online at wecdsb.on.ca

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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