Four fifths of Rainbow District School Board students opt to return to in-class studies

SUDBURY – The Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) has started the school year with 81 percent of its students indicating an intention to  attend class in person, with 19 percent reverting back to online learning which had been in place when schools were shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Norm Blaseg, director of education for RDSB told the Recorder after a board meeting last week. “I provided a full report of where we stand since our last board meeting; with reminders, for instance, that staggered starts have been implemented for students of different age and grades.”

“We referred to the new document the ministry (of Education) has provided about pandemic outbreaks,” said Mr. Blaseg. “We are working closely with the Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) and we are following their policies and direction to hopefully prevent an outbreak and, and also if an outbreak does take place.” Professional development days were held over three days last week for safety and training sessions for teachers and staff of RDSB on such things as health and safety.

Classes went online for all students in the RDSB from March 13 to June 30 due to COVID-19, said Mr. Blaseg. 

In his presentation to the board trustees Mr. Blaseg noted that that RDSB is working closely with child care providers with regard to the services they will be providing as well.

Mr. Blaseg said for this school year, the Education Quality and Assurance Office annual testing of students in Grade 3 and 6 has been cancelled, while the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test and Grade 9 assessments will be conducted online this year. As well, he pointed out, “there will be some form of co-operative education in place this year at the secondary school level.”

“In terms of staffing we have 81 percent of students being in class. So we have figure out the teacher distribution for each school,” said Mr. Blaseg. “So, what we did was basically put every school under the microscope, for instance if at Little Current Public School (LCPS) 60 students are missing from primary grades (opting for online learning) we looked at the number of fewer or more teachers that we need. We looked at every scenario.” 

RDSB has hired 30 additional teachers over the required collective agreement with teachers to provide for the required physical distancing in classes. “We are trying to ensure and create more physical distancing, so things will look different in the primary grades. For LCPS, for example, we have an extra staff (teacher) member to reduce class sizes in the school,” with students in a grade being divided up into basically two classes.

“For Grades 4 to 12 we left the staffing complement as is,” said Mr. Blaseg. “At the end of September, as we always do, we will look to see if a reorganization of resources on hand. So the 30 extra staff (teachers) we have on hand currently may actually go up or down,” he said. “We might have to hire more supply or long-term occasional teachers.”

RDSB has received additional financial support from the government in dealing with the pandemic. “We received priorities partnership funding from the federal government who has given (funding of $2 billion) to the provinces,” continued Mr. Blaseg. Ontario received $750 million for Ontario phase one with funding to the RDSB for additional teachers, $574,493; reopening emergency reopening issues, $761,700; hiring more custodians, lunchroom monitors, improving air quality in schools and additional technology and broadband supports; $346,420 for transportation to reduce the number of students on buses and recruiting more bus drivers; $207,511 for remote-virtual learning to hire more administrators; $132,44 towards special education and mental health.

At its meeting last week, RDSB passed a motion to make masks mandatory for all students in school.

As well, a 2019-2020 COVID-19  board expense report was provided. The information shows that the total cost to the RDSB was $1,627,925 for new devices for online learning and internet, healthy and safety personal protective equipment such as gloves, hand sanitizers, clear face masks, and the like as well as for signs, directing students through the schools for example. These costs of $1,627,925 are the costs incurred to date for the last school year (up to August 31).

Mr. Blaseg pointed out, “we are receiving supplies from a central distribution point (through the Ministry of Education) for 20,000 masks, hand sanitizers and other needed supplies on a monthly basis.”