Sunday, March 7, 2021

School boards set to begin phase two of ‘Learn at Home’

Local school boards are preparing to begin the second phase of the province’s Learn At Home program, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep students, teachers and staff away from school.

Deb Crawford, the Director of Education for the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, and John Howitt, Director of Education for the Lambton-Kent District School Board, issued letters to parents after the Ontario government announced on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 that schools and child care centres will remain closed to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

Provincial officials say public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020. As these dates come closer, this decision will be re-evaluated based on public health advice, Provincial officials added.

Catholic school board focused on health and safety, providing the best at-home education as possible

Crawford said in a letter to parents that from the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, their priority has been and will continue to be the health and safety of their students, families and staff.

“The extended school closure has not come as a surprise,” Crawford said.

Deb Crawford (St. Clair Catholic District School Board)

“At St. Clair Catholic, we have been preparing for this possibility since the school closure was first announced. It is our goal to provide our students with the best education possible while they are learning at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Crawford said teacher-led learning will begin this upcoming week and will be phased in.

“Our teachers will use a variety of strategies, such as online, telephone and mail delivery, to engage with students,” Crawford said.

“Every effort is being made to ensure access to learning opportunities for all students. While it’s true that in the days ahead the delivery of education will not be what we are used to, be assured that your teachers, principals and the full St. Clair Catholic staff are committed to doing our very best to support your child(ren) as they learn at home.”

Crawford said some important highlights regarding Learning at Home (Phase 2):

– Students will be learning in a safe environment.

– Grade 12 students on track to graduate are a priority.

– Final report cards will be issued.

– Supports for students with special needs are being developed in collaboration with teachers, principals and families.

– Student mental health and wellbeing will be supported by student wellness teams.

– St. Clair Catholic’s Parent Learning Hub will continue to provide additional resources for parents, guardians and caregivers to help support learning at home.

“Due to the concern for safety, at this time access to our schools by students and parents is not permitted,” Crawford added.

“If there is a specific item that you must have, please contact your principal so that arrangements can be made. I would ask that these requests be limited to urgent matters only. For the safety of everyone, we want to ensure our buildings remain as clean and safe as possible.”

Crawford said plans are being finalized to get technology into the hands of students who do not have devices at home.

“We are consulting with the Medical Officers of Health to ensure that our protocols for deployment safeguard the health of staff and families,” Crawford said.

“If you have not requested a device but need one, please contact your principal.”

Crawford added: “Finally, I want to say that it is my prayer that you and your family are staying safe and well and that you continue to follow the advice of our government leaders and public health professionals, as we all do our part to help limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. As a Catholic community of caring family members, and with God as our Shepherd, we can move forward in faith and hope for the future.”

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Lambton-Kent school board focused on health and safety, continuity of student learning

Howitt said in a letter to parents the public board understands the Province’s announcement extending the school closure may require families to consider additional planning and considerations for the coming weeks.

“Based on the expectations outlined by the Ministry of Education, LKDSB Senior Administration is working with Principals, educators and education workers to finalize plans for student learning at home beginning the week of April 6,” he said, adding that further detailed information for students and parents/guardians will be provided.

John Howitt (Lambton-Kent District School Board)

“The health and well-being of your family is paramount, and we understand that this is your primary focus at this time. We understand that students may be missing in-person interactions with educators, education workers and their peers. Please know that we are available to offer supports and many of our educators are reaching out to students and families as per your typical means of communication to check in and connect with students.”

Howitt added: “To assist parents/guardians with discussions with children/youth about the current situation with COVID-19, we have provided a list of available supports and resources. Additional information is available through School Mental Health Ontario.”

Howitt said moving forward, the Lambton-Kent District School Board is committed to supporting the continuity of student learning.

“We appreciate all of the feedback received through the Thoughtexchange online engagement,” he said.

“We share concerns regarding the importance of equity and access to learning resources and devices, as well as Internet access, and this has been a key consideration in our planning. However, we recognize there may be some unique challenges to address. Please expect to be contacted by your school to help us understand your specific context so we can provide learning resources to support our students in your household.”

Howitt said for those who have WiFi Internet access at home, but do not have sufficient shared devices to complete school work, they are invited to complete an online order form to support their family needs, adding that device distribution will be prioritized to graduating students first.

“During these unprecedented times, it is our shared responsibility to support the success of all students,” he said.

“We know that for most students and staff, learning during the school closures will look different than in-classroom learning. We also understand that families are navigating their unique circumstances and the learning processes will continue to evolve as staff and students become more familiar with learning at home. We are grateful for the outstanding dedication and commitment of our staff to supporting students’ success, as demonstrated to date with many educators connecting with students and families this past week.”

Howitt added, with the extension of the school closures, the school board understands some families may be anxious to access items students left at school prior to the closure.

“At this time, the Provincial Medical Officer of Health has not permitted access to schools for students to collect personal belongings unless there is an essential need (i.e. medication),” Howitt said.

“These are unique times and we continue to adapt as the situation evolves. We know that you will have questions and we are doing our best to get you answers. We will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available. We appreciate your support and understanding through this process.”

“I extend all the best to you, and the health and the well-being of your family,” Howitt said.

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Second phase of ‘Learn at Home’

As previously announced, no student will have their graduation compromised by COVID-19 and the Ministry of Education continues to collaborate with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to ensure that there will be no barriers to accessing postsecondary education, Provincial officials say.

“We will do whatever it takes to keep students safe from COVID-19 – which is why we have extended the school closure period and why we have unveiled a teacher-led program that keeps students learning while at home,” stated Minister Lecce.

“By providing clarity for parents, enhancing support for students and enabling the teacher-student relationship, we are ensuring our children continue to safely learn – providing some sense of stability and hope for them amid this difficulty.”

The second phase of Learn at Home features a new set of expectations for the education community, including:

– Reconnecting students with teachers and other school staff, including mental health workers.

– Re-establishing teacher-led learning by grade groupings as follows:

– Kindergarten-Grade 3: Five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy and math)

– Grades 4-6: Five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy, math, science and social studies)

– Grades 7-8: 10 hours of work per student/week (focus on math, literacy, science and social studies)

– Grades 9-12: Three hours of work per course per week for semestered students; 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students (focus on achieving credits/completion/graduation)

– Leveraging digital resources and identifying alternative forms of teacher-student connectivity, such as phone and mail.

– Developing a program of training for educators to support them in virtual learning delivery.

– Requiring final report cards for all students.

– Prioritizing and supporting students on track to graduate.

– Distributing laptops and/or devices from schools as needed, while observing public health direction.

– Maintaining a responsive posture for health care and community partner requests.

– And establishing formal COVID-19 working groups with education sector unions to work together, share ideas and to find solutions in the support of students.

“The province is taking extraordinary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19,” stated Minister Elliott.

“As we do, we need every Ontarian to continue to do their part by staying apart. Please stay home as much as possible and keep your distance from others if you must go out. Stay home, stay safe, lives depend on it.”

Provincial officials say on March 21, 2020, Ontario launched Ontario Together, an online portal helping organizations work with the province to meet the challenges of COVID-19.

The government will leverage partnerships with the telecommunication sector to provide innovative, low-cost and high-impact solutions to solve the equity challenges facing some students across Ontario, Provincial officials say.

With this resource, the Ministry of Education has posted a new challenge that looks for learning solutions focused on:

– Free or low-cost learning resources and supports for students, parents and educators.

– Access to devices such as computers, tablets and portable Wi-Fi hotspots for families that need the supports.

– And other ideas, goods or services, for example, to support mental health and students with special education needs.

For more details, click here.

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