Tuesday was the first day of school for teachers and support staff in the Greater Essex County District School Board; and the first of three days of training was all about getting top marks in COVID-19 safety, prevention and infection control.
Staff were guided through safety plans and got a tour of the new layout of their schools, which have undergone a significant transformation since March Break — when classes were first put on hold, then cancelled for the rest of the school year.
Now, there are spacing markers on the floor, wayfinding arrows to direct kids and staff through designated hallways and staircases — which will help with physical distancing and managing the flow of people.
It's been a huge undertaking, and Tim Lauzon's responsibility as health and safety officer for the Greater Essex County District School Board.
'A moving target'
"The challenge for me is developing a number of safety plans for the different groups, tying it in with job specific hazards and prevention. The diversity of our 5000 staff is quite the challenge," Lauzon told CBC Windsor Tuesday.
That's made even more complicated, he says, by the ever-changing policies and procedures coming down from the Ministry of Education.
"It's a moving target every other day. There are new requirements or changes from [the] ministry and government documents and requirements," said Lauzon.
Despite teachers and support staff only having one day dedicated to COVID-19 health and safety training, Lauzon says he's confident everything will go smoothly when students return on Sept. 10.
But the day got off to a bumpy start, says Jim Reed, a teacher at Central Public School in Windsor.
When the board tried to present the training manual that explains best practices for teachers to keep themselves and students safe, the entire system crashed.
Too many people across the province were trying to access the BrightSpace server at the same time, confirms Lauzon.
Now, Reed and his colleagues will have to go over the 96-page document some other time, on their own, he said.
"It's pretty overwhelming," said Reed, of the single day of COVID-19 protection training, but he says he and his fellow teachers will get through it the best they can. "There isn't really a blueprint for this type of thing," he added.
Even grading assignments will change
One of Reed's primary concerns is the effect the changes will have on students, who are coming back to schools that will run completely differently than the ones they left in March.
Even the way he grades assignments will change.
"If you actually give the students a piece of paper for some sort of seat work, you can collect it, but then you can't touch it for a day and then you mark it and then you have to wait a day before you hand it back," said Reed.
"That's the kind of stuff that we've never had to deal with in the past. So it just adds to the challenges."
The majority of students in the Greater Essex County District School Board and Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board will attend class in person.
The Catholic school board says it expects to have 23 per cent of elementary students and 24 per cent of high school students learning from home this September.
The public board expects about 28 per cent of elementary students and 19 per cent of high school students to learn virtually.
The public board has opened applications for families who need to borrow devices so students can learn at home. Families are to contact their home school for details.