School boards planning for return to in-class learning after Christmas break

·4 min read

School is not out for the new year. At least that’s the plan.

The local Education Directors said the plan to return to class on January 3, 2022, remains the same as last week.

According to Education Director at the Lambton-Kent District School Board, John Howitt, and his counterpart at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, Scott Johnson, they are telling students not to take their tech devices home in case schools are closed in January.

Howitt said no announcement had been made as of yet. He added that until the school boards know that they don’t want to add stress and anxiety to students heading into the holidays.

“Our concern that is asking students to take everything home has unintended consequences of raising anxiety of what is very often already an anxious time in many, many homes. Schools are a place of stability for our students, and when they’re off for two weeks, we sometimes see some behaviours and anxieties leading into those kinds of holidays,” said Howitt.

In the event an announcement is made to switch to online learning, Howitt said the school boards would likely use the first two days of learning in the new year to connect with families to determine what is needed.

While some school boards have already told their students to take their belongings home in case learning switches to online in January, Johnson said his school board is planning for a return to school in the new year.

“If students do not return in January, then we will pivot to remote learning if instructed to do so at that time, and if we have to support technology deployment at that time, we will do so. We think doing so before we have any direction might be premature at this time and might send the wrong message to parents as well,” said Johnson.

According to Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby, the public health policy is schools are the last to close and the first to open under pandemic circumstances. He added that in-class learning is safe and safer than staying home in some cases.

To provide an additional layer of protection against COVID-19 and variants, including Omicron, the province of Ontario has launched a holiday testing blitz to offer rapid antigen tests to individuals free of charge at pop-up sites across the province as well as at select LCBO stores across Ontario. This initiative is part of the government’s enhanced COVID-19 testing strategy to mitigate the increased risk of transmission over the holiday season.

Throughout December to mid-January, two million rapid tests will be provided free of charge at pop-up testing sites in high-traffic settings such as malls, retail settings, holiday markets, public libraries and transit hubs, as well as providing vaccine education. Pop-up teams will be deployed at locations across the province. Most sites will distribute free take-home rapid antigen test kits, and some will offer asymptomatic rapid antigen screening on-site.

Ontarians can visit to find out if pop-up rapid antigen screening sites will be available in their area. One person is entitled to one rapid test kit, subject to supply. Those who have been exposed to a positive case or have symptoms of the virus are asked not to pick up a rapid test and, instead, must visit a designated testing spot.

While many are scrambling to get their hands on tests, Howitt and Johnson urge parents and students not to throw out the rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits home with students before the Christmas break. Some comments surfaced on social media that some families plan to toss them in the trash.

Howitt admitted he would be disappointed if that were the case as many people want them and can’t afford them.

“We are looking to keep schools safe when we return, and there’s a lot of questions from parents about whether or not asymptomatic students are attending school and the rapid antigen tests are one of the ways parents can know whether or not their children are an asymptomatic positive and require a PCR test or not to help ensure a safe return to school on January 3,” Howitt said.

As of December 17, Chatham-Kent has eight COVID-19 school outbreaks with a combined 24 cases.

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

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