Secondary school students in the Thames Valley District School Board will not be required to take final examinations in any subjects over the next year.
During a special board meeting on Tuesday night, Aug. 31, managers reviewed how schools would be operating this year, at least for now.
The board is expecting about 95 percent of children to return to in-person learning in classrooms, while about five percent will continue to study remotely via the Internet.
New student Trustee Harin Satheeskumar of London asked what examinations would look like for secondary students.
Student Achievement Trustee Christine Giannacopoulos said the modified semester system being used for courses this week would result in a mark based entirely on work completed during each term. No formal final exams would be held, she said.
Last year, secondary schools operated using “quadmesters,” with students taking two courses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, for 10 weeks at a time.
This year, Education Director Mark Fisher said, high schools would return to a two-term year, with up to four courses studied per term.
The change was based on student and family concerns about the pace and intensiveness of the quadmester system, he said.
However, the semesters wouldn’t revert completely to the system used before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Fisher said instead, students would study two courses in one week, and the other two the next week, and so on for 20 weeks.
A student would, during a single day, receive 150 instructional minutes in the morning, break for lunch, and then have 150 minutes in the second course in the afternoon.
The new system was an attempt to continue to limit contacts between students of different “cohorts” to reduce potential transmission of the virus through a school, he said.
All teachers, he noted, were being required to maintain a “digital platform” in case of virus developments leading to a return to full remote learning for all children, he added.
Mr. Fisher said that in schools, children would be allowed again to use “common spaces” such as computer rooms, lockers and libraries that had been closed last year.
Clubs, sports teams and other extra-curricular activities “may resume with some restrictions. This is an evolving topic.”
The return to activities that had been forbidden last year would be intentionally gradual, he continued. Excursions to such places as outdoor learning centres could resume, as long as supervised at all times by TVDSB staff.
School nutrition programs (healthy breakfasts and snacks) would resume, he said, but not special food events such as pizza days.
Children would have to bring their own lunches. Lunch food would not be sold in schools.
Cooperative education placements could resume, if the students involved were fully vaccinated and could follow all required health and safety protocols while in a workplace, he stated.
Music classes could resume, but singing and wind instruments could only be played indoors if physical distancing could be maintained.
The same applied to the use of gymnasiums, weight rooms and other school equipment.
Childcare centres and before- and after-school programs could resume, Mr. Fisher said. Community rentals of school spaces would be allowed if public health guidelines were followed.
Parents would receive a new “daily screener” checklist for children. Staff or children with any COVID-19 symptom, or otherwise ill, must not come to school.
The Ontario Ministry of Education was requiring face masking for all children in Grades 1 through 12, and adult learners.
Trustees, he noted, had required face masks be used in kindergartens as well, and that policy continued unless a child was granted a medical examination.
Staff members would receive medical-grade face masks and other personal protective equipment as needed for their jobs.
Eye protection would be required if working with an unmasked student.
When students were deaf or hard of hearing, clear face masks would be provided to staff.
All unnecessary furniture had been removed from classrooms to allow desks to be distanced from each other as much as possible, Mr. Fisher stated.
Children wouldn’t be required to stay within their cohorts while outdoors, but recesses and breaks would be staggered to discourage congregation between cohorts.
Children could eat together indoors or outdoors, but only if two metres distance could be maintained between children of different cohorts. Within the cohorts, children would be separated as much as possible.
All staff, visitors and trustees much be vaccinated to enter any school board property, he said. The board’s administration was working on a system involving proof of vaccination.
Mr. Fisher said staff members who chose not to be vaccinated would be required to participate in an immunization education session, and would have to be tested weekly for COVID-19 on their own time.
Any visitor to a school, in addition to being vaccinated, must wear a medical-grade mask while indoors, provided by the school if necessary.
Board Chairman and London Trustee Lori-Anne Pizzolato asked what the board’s plan was to assess each child’s learning from the last year after returning to the classroom.
Mr. Fisher said such assessments were being made a priority. They had always been necessary, but the educational experience for each child over the last 18 months of the pandemic had been highly variable, so they were even more important now.
Teachers were expected to conduct “diagnostic assessments of student needs” and provide extra help where needed, he added.
Oxford Trustee Barb Yeoman, noting the requirement for unvaccinated staff to be tested weekly, asked, “Is it own their own dime?”
Mr. Fisher said the board was currently obligated by the Ontario Ministry of Health to provide such tests to unvaccinated staff.
London Trustee Corrine Rahman asked if schools would be used for polling stations in the Sept. 20 federal election, as they had in the past.
Associate Director Jeff Pratt said the board had been working closely with Elections Canada on that subject.
Schools had typically been used for voting in past federal and provincial elections, he said, but the board was trying to reduce the number of visitors to them.
As a result, only eight schools would be used for polling stations during this election. For those that were, each polling station would have to have an exterior entrance and exit separate to those used by children, and a washroom would be designated for use by election officials only.
Rob Perry, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Aylmer Express