ETSB elementary schools to reopen May 13

By Matthew McCully

During a special meeting on Tuesday, May 5, the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) Council of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution to reopen elementary schools and daycares on May 13, two days later than the minister of education’s timeline of May 11.
The resolution also included the green light for adult education and vocational training centres.
The meeting, held by videoconferencing, was attended by a number of ETSB teachers and administrators, several of whom expressed concerns about the plan to reopen.
A survey was sent to ETSB parents last week to find out how many would opt to send their children to school. According to the board, 86 per cent answered the survey and those who didn’t were called directly.
The results were as follows:
34.5 per cent intend to return to school;
Eight per cent require daycare service;
53 per cent of those returning asked for transportation.
The distribution of students across the territory ranges between 13 and 56 per cent attendance depending on the school.
Regarding transportation, up to 80 per cent of bus drivers will return to the job for the board’s eastern sector. Some will have a different route than they normally cover. The ETSB will provide full protective equipment for the drivers as well as hand sanitizer for the students as they board.
As for the western sector, which has shared transportation and drivers are contracted separately, no agreement has yet been reached for bussing to schools in that area.
Lennoxville, Granby and Sherbrooke were three of the areas identified where transportation will be a challenge to coordinate.
Regarding staffing, the board received 116 requests for exemptions from work for medical reasons.
In elementary schools, an average of 79 per cent of employees will be returning to work. That ranges between 57 per cent to 100 per cent presence of staff among the 20 schools.
While most schools have sufficient space to meet social distancing requirements, Drummondville Elementary, where a high percentage of students will be returning, was identified as a school where space will be an issue.
While the plan is to move ahead, Interim Director General Michel Soucy pointed out that four criteria must be met before schools can reopen:
Sufficient staff in a school according to grouping;
Sufficient space to safely welcome students;
Transportation department must have time to create new bus routes;
Staff must have access to required protective gear and cleaning products.
If any one of the four criteria are not met, the board reserves the right to delay an opening, or if a school has already opened, to close until the conditions are met.
Regarding protective gear and supplies, the board is on pace with acquisitions, Soucy said. They currently have close to half of the equipment required which includes visors, procedure masks, coveralls, gowns, different types of cleaners and sanitizers, washable masks, latex gloves, N95 masks, thermometers, microfiber cloths, and plexiglass dividers and sheets.
There is a protocol in place in the event a student should present with COVID-19 symptoms. They will be isolated in a designated area of a school and a kit with full protective equipment will be made available to a staff member accompanying the student. Parents will then be called, and the public health department will be contacted to report the situation. Health officials will then continue the follow up and investigation.
According to Soucy, resources will be made available to train ETSB staff how to properly use personal protective equipment. He added that there are tutorials available online for masks, gloves, gowns and visors.
Students are not required to wear masks, but any parents who wish to provide one for their child is welcome to do so.
Before going to a vote about the plan to reopen schools, ETSB Chairman Michael Murray restated some of the key aspects of the plan.
“It must happen sometime, it won’t get any easier,” Murray said, adding that re-opening schools in September with fully loaded busses and classes wouldn’t be a great way to start.
Murray said the board acknowledges the risk, pointing out that the premier’s assertion that hospitals have beds available is a clear signal the government anticipates a surge in hospitalizations. He added the plan to reopen schools includes few to no educational activities.
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