Local school boards ready to welcome students back to the classroom

·3 min read

Local school boards are ready to welcome students back to the classrooms.

According to officials with the Lambton-Kent District School Board and the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, when students start school on Sept. 6, most health and safety requirements will remain unchanged from the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

John Howitt, director of education, said staff had worked hard throughout the summer to ensure facilities were ready.

“We’re very optimistic this school year will have significantly fewer disruptions than we’ve had the previous two years,” he said.

He added that the goal is to be transparent and recognize that things might be beyond their control. He clarified the Board would promptly communicate any disruptions should they occur.

“What that means is we are not limited by cohorts; students and staff are not required to wear masks,” he said.

The school boards also announced masks would not be mandatory. However, they will be available at all schools within both boards for students and staff who wish to wear them.

HEPA filters have also been installed in every classroom and learning space across the region to ensure proper ventilation while students are present.

“We’re also running our ventilation earlier and later in the day to ensure that ventilation has extra time to exchange the air in the building,” said Hewitt.

While both school boards have taken appropriate steps to help keep students and staff safe with COVID-19 safety measures, Scott Johnson, the director of education with the SCCDSB, said this school year would feel like a pre-pandemic environment.

“Students and staff will also not have to submit vaccinations to be part of clubs and teams,” said Johnson. “Visitors are welcome back in our schools. You’re going to see increasing opportunities for parents to engage with the schools.”

Howitt echoed the statement.

“I am pleased that our schools are ready to return to a normalized school experience, where students can engage fully in academic, athletic, artistic, social justice, wellness and faith formation activities throughout the school day.”

The school boards also highlighted that mental health professionals would be available for students to visit throughout the year, with additional supports in place to help with the transition back to school.

“All students will continue to have access to school-based mental health services provided by our exceptional support staff,” said Johnson.

Johnson added that schools would continue to monitor absence rates and notify public health officials whenever the rates due to illness exceed what is considered typical.

Additionally, while daily COVID screening is no longer a mandatory requirement at local schools, officials with both boards are recommending staff, students and visitors utilize their respective online screening tools each day before attending school. Students who feel ill are encouraged to stay home until their condition improves.

Staff and students will also continue to have access to rapid antigen tests in accordance with provincial testing guidance. Those wishing to access the tests following an unplanned absence can request them from the school office.

The schools are also expected to have more students returning to the classrooms as fewer students will be learning this coming school year remotely.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News