Rainbow District School Board outlines 2021 reopening plans

Rainbow District School Board

SUDBURY – On September 7 the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) will welcome students back to school for the 2021-2022 school year, with enhanced health and safety protocols in place to ensure the well-being of students and staff. “The health, safety and well-being of students and staff remains the top priority,” said Director of Education Norm Blaseg. 

“Though the classroom experience will look and feel differently again this year, parents, guardians and students can be assured that our caring educators and committed coaches will deliver quality education and extracurricular activities with safety first and foremost,” said Mr. Blaseg. “We miss our students and look forward to safely reconnecting with them.”

The board transitioned to online learning in March 2021 when the number of local COVID-19 cases increased. As directed by the Ministry of Education, this fall elementary and secondary schools will reopen for in-person learning with expanded opportunities for students including clubs, bands and sports activities, Mr. Blaseg told RDSB trustees. 

The board has released a 27-page reopening guide that includes information on what parents and guardians can expect when classes resume in addition to an overview of the health and safety protocols being implemented to limit the spread of COVID-19. The guide was created in accordance with the provincial document, ‘COVID-19: Health, safety and operational guidance for schools 2021-2022.’ According to the guide, “Structure, schedule and stability will be balanced with safety.  Rainbow schools will use multiple protective strategies and a layering of controls to support healthier and safer environments for students and staff.” The board will also provide enhanced mental health this year to help students transition back to the classroom,” Mr. Blaseg said.

All schools will receive an inventory of disposable medical-grade masks, face shields and disposable gloves and staff are required to wear both a medical mask and face shield and/or safety goggles while in the school. In-person students in Grades 1 through 12 must wear masks and Kindergarten students will be allowed to wear either masks or face shields. 

Plexiglass will remain in Grades 1, 2 and 3 classrooms. Air quality in classrooms and learning environments will be optimized through improved ventilation and/or filtration. Congregating at entrances and exits will be discouraged and signage, floor decals and ground markings will direct traffic flow. Pavement markings will promote physical distancing in bus zones. 

As per the guide, Mr. Blaseg said each school will designate a COVID-19 isolation room to be used for the temporary placement of any student or staff member that becomes ill during the day. All schools will be cleaned and disinfected each evening and schools will ensure that washrooms are cleaned frequently. Posters will be placed in strategic areas to reinforce the key messages of handwashing and use of drinking fountains to fill water bottles only, he said.

While vaccination is an important tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and allow students, families and staff to safely resume normal activities, Mr. Blaseg agreed, Public Health Sudbury and Districts (PHSD) will not be providing information on whether students have been vaccinated. 

“To manage illness and outbreaks, there are strict protocols that include detailed record keeping and daily screening for symptoms and contact tracing,” he said. Students, teachers and staff must self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 before leaving home, and those who are unwell must stay home from school. They should also seek testing and appropriate medical attention and remain at home while awaiting test results. Schools must immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases within the school to PHSD.

Protocols will be updated as the province releases new guidance on the management of COVID-19 in schools. 

All students will attend school for a full day (five instructional hours). While remote learning is an option, in-person learning remains very important, Mr. Blaseg said. An Ontario Science Advisory Table (OSAT) brief stated, “The physical, emotional and developmental health of children and youth has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions placed on schools. School disruptions, including school closures and implementation of education models that have reduced direct interaction between children, their peers, and their teachers (e.g., online learning), have led to significant learning disruption, exacerbated educational inequities and deprived children of other supports and activities available through schools including food programs, physical activity and sports and clubs and teams.” The OSAT also suggested that school closures and distance learning strategies should be part of a pandemic control strategy in only the most catastrophic of circumstances.

RDSB elementary school students will be cohorted by homeroom while secondary schools will reopen with smaller cohorts in a modified semester five days a week. Students will be expected to follow their timetables and each class will be 150 minutes long. 

Students attending class remotely are expected to attend full-time and will have access to learning materials online as well as synchronous (live) learning opportunities throughout the school day. Remote secondary students may have alternate teachers or require timetable changes. Technology will be provided for remote learning if required. For those who have chosen to start the school year with remote learning (parents had until August 16 to indicate whether learning would be online or in-person), the only opportunity to transition to in-person learning will be in February 2022.  

Provincial guidelines for school do allow for the community use of schools. Community use of RDSB schools will be reviewed and phased in when deemed appropriate, said Mr. Blaseg. “Student activities will be the first priority.” Further guidance on allowed extra-curricular activities, music classes, clubs, sports teams, health and physical education will be shared with schools. 

Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments will be done in person but the literacy graduation requirement is waived for students graduating this upcoming year, said Mr. Blaseg. “They will be restored for students graduating in the 2022-2023 school year. The community involvement graduation requirement has been reduced from 40 hours to a minimum of 20 hours of community involvement activities for students graduating in the 2021-2022 school year as well.” 

“The ongoing pandemic has taught us that we need to be flexible in order to limit the spread of COVID-19,” said Mr. Blaseg. “We will strive to expand opportunities for students in accordance with provincial directives and guidance from public health. When the pandemic ends, Rainbow schools will be well positioned to return to business as usual, with a continued focus on mental health and well-being.”