Usually, back-to-school anxiety is something students experience, but this year with COVID-19 pandemic-related concerns, parents, staff, and students alike all seem to be sharing the anxiety.

Parents have contacted The Review in recent days expressing concern over how student safety would be managed at Pleasant Corners Public School (PCPS).  The deadline to respond to an online Upper Canada District School Board survey was 11:45 p.m. on Thursday, August 20.  In that survey, parents were to indicate if they would be sending their children to school in-person or keeping them at home for distance learning when classes begin on September 4.  If parents did not respond, it would be assumed by the board that the children would be attending school in-person.  The parent who contacted The Review said that they were having a difficult time deciding what to do without adequate information from school administration.

Efforts by The Review to contact PCPS Principal Jana Kilger and School Council Chair Drummond Fraser were not successful.  According to UCDSB Communications Officer Jodie Hall, principals were preoccupied with the reopening of schools and that the plan specific to PCPS was sent by email to parents on August 19 in the afternoon and the notice was shared on the school’s Facebook page.

On Monday, August 24, the UCDSB announced that responses had been received for approximately 22,500 students, or 85 per cent of the board’s total enrollment.  Out of that amount, 18,054 or 80 per cent will be attending school in-person while 4,452 or 20 per cent are registered for online learning.  Out of the figure for online learning, 3,184 are elementary students, and 1,268 are secondary students.

Parents who did not respond will be assumed by the board to have selected in-person learning for their children.  If they do not want in-person learning, parents should contact their local school this week.

On the evening of August 19, the UCDSB held a live streamed board meeting where trustees and parents could ask questions about return to school plans based on information presented from superintendents, Eastern Ontario Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paula Stewart, and Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO) General Manager Janet Murray.  The online chat box was inundated with 826 questions from 514 participants.

“It’s a balance,” was how Roumeliotis described the decision parents were faced with.  He said children benefit from being in the classroom but also said the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is reduced if they are not there.  He outlined the basic rules that will be followed such as daily screening, isolation of sick children and staff, dividing classes into cohorts, physical distancing, hand hygiene, school cleaning, building ventilation, and masks.

Dr. Stewart said that if a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will not be named and the parents of all children in the class will be notified along with all parents with children at that school.

Roumeliotis explained that if a student or staff member tests positive, it does not necessarily mean the whole school will have to close because it will depend on the extent of the contact the individual has had with others in the school.  Testing of asymptomatic individuals will not happen and the EOHU will rely on its existing testing and assessment centres and paramedics to provide testing services if required.

At elementary schools, each class cohort will be grouped to minimize crowding in hallways.  The secondary school year will be divided into four quarters that are each 48 days long.

For students learning at home, the UCDSB has completely established two new virtual schools.  Students at those schools will be cross enrolled with their nearest local school.  Efforts will be made to have virtual students in classes from their local area whenever possible.  The virtual school principals and teachers will not be from local schools.

On school buses, seating will be assigned, and class cohorts will be kept together as much as possible.  STEO is hoping that physical distancing will be easier on school buses if fewer children are using them.