The two largest local school boards want to know if parents will send their children back to class in September or keep them home for teacher-led online lessons.
The Lambton Kent District school board and St. Clair Catholic District school board are sending a joint survey to parents and guardians in order to make plans for class sizes and staffing levels.
The provincial government is letting both boards reopen all elementary and secondary schools for full-time classes starting Sept. 8.
Schools have been closed since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019-20 school year ended with students taking online classes for more than three months.
If parents choose online classes to start the new year but later change their mind, there’s no guarantee their children can be put in a classroom. Space may not be available, board officials say.
“Based on the option that parents make for their children, we will be planning our classes and our staffing models accordingly,” said John Howitt, director of education for the Lambton Kent District school board.
“This is not a short-term commitment. Should a parent change their mind in October or in November, we can’t promise that we will be able to accommodate them in the school setting. This is a longer-term decision that they are making if they choose to learn at home or face to face.”
The Lambton Kent and St. Clair Catholic boards want responses by Aug. 28.
While board officials work on reopening schools, they also continue with plans to help students who stay home.
“We’re going to have to ensure that we have a very viable online learning environment for students who are not able to come back or whose parents opt that they do not come back,” said Deb Crawford, director of education for the St. Clair Catholic District school board. “We want to really pay close attention to that as well.”
Boards also need to be ready if a hybrid model combining in-class and online learning is needed, Crawford said.
“We need to be able to move very quickly to an adapted model if the numbers change down here, in terms of COVID (cases),” she said. “The boards are expected to be able to quite quickly move to an adapted version if that becomes necessary.”
All boards were required to prepare for three reopening scenarios: full-time classes; a mix of in-class and online learning; and online lessons only.
Howitt said the Lambton Kent board was prepared for any strategy the province announced this week.
“We had been busy planning for whatever mode that the data and the science demonstrated was appropriate for our students and our staff,” he said. “We have our plans in place and are anxious to welcome our students and get back on the learning trail after a summer.”
The boards have made their reopening plans with input from health officials.
“We’re very excited that the students are back and that they’re back full time because really that is so good for the kids,” Crawford said. “We’ve got a commitment from our medical officers of health in Chatham-Kent and in Sarnia-Lambton that they will work with us to make sure that any of the plans that we make are safe and healthy for all the kids.”
The provincial government announced more than $300 million in back-to-school funding, including $50 million to hire up to 500 extra school-focused nurses in public health units.
“That is an asset that we’re very happy to have added to our list of strategies that we’re going to use as we move forward,” Crawford said. “This will be great to have a public nurse assistant.”