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Sunday, January 16

Some concerns remain as the province prepares to return to school

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With staff and students set to return to in-person learning starting Monday, school boards in and around Kingston are still hoping to see more action from the province.

At the Limestone District School Board (LDSB) meeting Wednesday night, a movement it was approved to request that the president of the board write a letter to the Medical Director of Health, the local Medical Officers of Health and the Minister of Education.

The letter will request nine individual measures to help ensure a safe return to schools, with mandatory vaccination for students being one of those requests.

Suzanne Ruttan, chair of the LDSB Board of Directors, says the letter is currently being worked on, and while it is expected to be completed in a timely manner, they don’t want to rush it.

Ruttan says the letter tries to make clear what the board wants to see in a safe return to school.

“The trustees want to share information with public health, the Medical Director of Health and the Minister of Education about what our priorities are,” Ruttan said.

“This letter also demonstrates to our constituents in the community what our priorities are.”

A limited number of spaces for virtual learning will be available on a short-term basis, continuing through the first quarter for elementary students and the second quarter for high school students.

LDSB Director of Education Krishna Burra says that over the past two years, staff have become adept at pivoting and are prepared to return to work beginning Monday.

Burra says the requests are meant to reflect that more can always be done to ensure safety in schools.

“The motion the other night was really about having a safe situation to go back to schools,” Burra said.

“There is always more that can be done to increase the sense of comfort that people would have going back to school.”

Burra added that on Friday morning, medical officers of health from both the KFL&A and Hastings and Prince Edward County gave their support for the list of requests.

He also says that despite some complaints in the province that teachers have not been prioritized for reinforcements, that does not appear to be an issue with local educators.

Schools also received rapid antigen test (RAT) kits on Friday, with LDSB receiving nearly 40,000 that will be distributed in pairs to students and staff, with anyone with symptoms requiring two negative tests to return to school.

LDSB also told parents that students would be offered three-ply masks and teachers would be provided with N95 masks for added protection.

The board states that the province must be aware of all expenses related to the pandemic and must continue to fund supplies and RAT kits.

Changes to the way schools report cases have drawn some criticism, as schools are now only required to notify the Ministry of Education and Public Health after a 30 percent absentee rate.

That’s one of the concerns of the nearby Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB), whose president, Tom Dall, expressed the board’s “disappointment and frustration.”

In a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Dall says that despite Lecce’s claims to the contrary, this decision was not made in consultation with staff and administration.

“Contrary to your comments on social media,” the letter says.

“There was absolutely no consultation with trustee associations, education directors or unions about this significant change in practice.”

Dall goes on to say that rural families with children attending ALCDSB schools face a disadvantage due to broadband access, and adequate funding is needed to support long-term remote learning.

Like Limestone, Dall and the ALCDSB also called for making COVID vaccinations mandatory for students, but also called for the province to revert to its previous contact and case management system.

Although mandatory vaccination demand has seen a small setback, Kingston already has one of the highest vaccination rates in the province, with 60% of eligible adults receiving their third dose and 65.2% of children from 5 to 11 years with one dose in comparison. almost 50% of the provincial average.



Reference-ygknews.ca

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