Return to In-Person Learning Updates

Return to In-Person Learning Updates
Posted on 01/13/2022

Dear families,

The Ministry of Education confirmed yesterday afternoon that all public schools across Ontario will return to in-person learning as scheduled on Monday, January 17, 2022. We know that many students and families are anxious to get back to the traditional classroom setting. Thank you to everyone for your patience and flexibility as we transitioned to remote learning for the initial return from the December break.

While many health and safety protocols remain the same, there are some enhancements and significant changes to testing and case and contact management for schools as outlined in the recently released Ministry of Health’s COVID 19: Interim Guidance for Schools and Child Care: Omicron Surge. Highlights include:

  • The COVID-19 School & Child Care Screening Tool has been updated to reflect the latest health guidance regarding COVID-19 symptoms. Anyone who is sick or has any symptoms of illness, including those not listed, should stay home and follow the directions provided.
  • All students, staff and visitors must continue to always wear masks inside. Elementary students must also wear masks outside during breaks. It is recommended that secondary students also wear masks outside where they cannot physically distance.
  • All staff have been provided with optional non-fit-tested N95 masks and students will be offered three-ply masks.
  • Elementary cohorts will be maintained within the classroom and during outdoor breaks/yard time wherever possible.
  •  Only students and/or staff who are symptomatic at school will receive take-home PCR test kits if available (Limestone’s supply is limited).
  • Next week Elementary students and all staff will each receive an initial allotment of two Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) to be used if you experience symptoms at home (two negative tests 24 hours apart will be required to return to school). Secondary students will receive RATs as the supply increases.
  • Additional school protocols on symptomatic students/staff at school and return-to-school directives have been reviewed and updated by KFL&A Public Health based on the new Ministry guidance. You can find these on the board website.
  • Public health has indicated that given the widespread transmission of Omicron and the inability to test all symptomatic individuals, schools will not have the same information we had prior to the break for notifying students, families or staff of positive cases.
  • Public Health will no longer dismiss cohorts as it has been determined that individuals only exposed at school are no longer considered high-risk contacts. Staff and students may be advised to self-isolate as a close or high-risk contact based on their exposure to a case/symptomatic individual in the community/outside of school.
  • The board will report school absences of at least 30 per cent to the Ministry of Education and public health who will determine if additional interventions are required. We await further information about this reporting.
  • Limestone will receive an additional 38 HEPA filter units for distribution. Classrooms and other spaces in schools without mechanical ventilation were already equipped with HEPA filters last fall. Information on the allotment to schools was posted to the board website in September and will be updated once the new units are installed.

There are some changes which are a significant departure from how cases were being managed with the assistance of Public Health since the start of the pandemic. We understand not everyone will agree with these changes, but school boards must follow these directives. As indicated by the province’s Chief Medical of Officer of Health, the risk of acquiring COVID-19 can never be eliminated but it can be reduced using a layered approach of health and safety protocols. As the pandemic has evolved, so too, has the public health response using the latest science and evidence.

In addition to the protocols, KFL&A Public Health has shared important news on the vaccination front. Public health continues to report that vaccination provides the greatest protection against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 vaccination in the KFL&A region. KFL&A Public Health shared that over 90 per cent of people aged 5 years and up have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The KFL&A region also boasts the highest rate of first dose coverage in 5 to 11 years of age, the fourth highest coverage of second doses in 12 to 17 years of age, the seventh highest coverage of second doses in 12 years of age and over, and the highest uptake of third doses in the eligible population. Several walk-in clinics with no appointment required are now available, and additional school-based clinics are also being planned. A list of vaccination clinics is available on the KFL&A Public Health website.  Parental consent is required for 5-11 year old vaccinations.

We understand some families may not feel comfortable sending their students back to in-person learning next week. Because of class size limits and our inability to reorganize the whole system, space is limited in our LDSB Virtual Schools. We will, however, offer some short-term virtual learning options to meet the needs of families who wish to temporarily continue with remote learning.

Families who wish to have their elementary or secondary student continue with remote learning beginning January 17, 2022 should go into the SchoolMessenger app or SchoolMessenger website and enter their student’s attendance daily as “Short-term Virtual,” or call your student’s school directly. This initial period of short-term virtual learning will be supported by students’ current teachers and will be mostly asynchronous learning.

Next week, the board will send a survey to elementary families asking for their longer-term intention:

  • Extending short-term virtual learning beyond February 3, 2022, with the intention of returning to in-person learning this school year
  • Enroll in LDSB Elementary Virtual School for the remainder of the school year (transition to take place at the beginning of term two (February 3, 2022)

Elementary families who plan to continue with in-person learning do not need to complete the survey.

Secondary students who wish to transition to LDSB Secondary Virtual School may register at the end/beginning of a Quadmester if there is course availability and space. Students who wish to do this should contact their home school.

Clearly, the effects of the pandemic are ongoing and significant challenges remain. Limestone staff continue to work diligently to support students’ learning and their well-being. We know the disruption to learning due to previous cohort dismissals, staffing shortages, and provincial shutdowns have had a significant impact on students and staff. It has not been easy and there will continue to be circumstances out of our control. While we will do our utmost to keep schools open, if we are unable to sufficiently staff a school with regular and occasional staff, we may be unable to safely open a school to in-person learners which means we may have to pivot a class or school to temporary remote learning. This was the case in several schools prior to the December break. This is preferable to mixing class cohorts which would be a last resort. If the mixing of cohorts would be required to keep a school open, families would be notified with as much advance notice as possible.

I know this is a lot of information to take in, however, we want to provide you with as much information and the most up-to-date information we have. We will continue to be flexible and nimble and navigate these changes as best we can, and we ask that do the same. We will continue to share updates as we receive them. In the meantime, please stay safe and well.

Krishna Burra
Director of Education