While the pandemic has overshadowed many of the goings on of the Eastern Townships School Board (ETSB) over the past two years, the board is about to celebrate a historic moment with the completion of a new elementary school in Drummondville.
“We are on the cusp of taking possession of a brand new school, an entirely new building,” commented ETSB Chairman Michael Murray during Tuesday’s Council of Commissioners meeting. “The first, I should point out, for the ETSB since its creation, and from among the schools that we own, the most recent one built before this one was in 1967,” the chairman explained. “This is something of a phenomenon for us, and something we want to celebrate.”
Because of the pandemic, board members have not yet been unable to tour the school, but based on photographs and presentations, Murray said it’s going to be a phenomenally beautiful school.
The new school was needed to accommodate increasing enrolment in Drummondville, which in recent years had the old school bursting at the seams.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the ETSB territory, the elementary school in Clarenceville, which had been closed for several years, was sold to the municipality for the whopping sum of $1.
Director General Michel Soucy presented the highlights of the ETSB 2021-2021 annual report during Tuesday’s meeting. The report, available on the board’s website, includes the main elements addressed during council of commissioner meetings, the Student Ombudsman’s report, as well as a report on bullying and violence, workforce and service contracts, financial statements, and the board’s commitment to success plan. The ETSB’s main objective is to raise the 7-year cohort graduation and certification rate from 71.2 to 76.2 per cent.
New principal at Heroes’
The board has appointed Katrina Paxton to the position of principal at Heroes’ Elementary School in Cowansville. Paxton is replacing Anne Stairs.
Bills to pay…attention to
Bill 21, Bill 40 and Bill 9 were topics of conversation during Tuesday’s meeting. Chairman Murray said the Quebec English School Boards Association (QESBA), continues to be preoccupied with secularism Bill 21. And Bill 9, recently introduced to modify the current student ombudsman structure has raised some red flags. The proposed changes would mean appointing a national ombudsman, appointed by the government, and regional ombudsmen, appointed by the education ministry. Murray said according to the QESBA, the new structure would compromise the independence of the office, and the association is asking for a separate ombudsman to properly address the realities of the nine English school boards in the province.
The board is still waiting for a decision on Bill 40, Murray said. Given the significance of the challenge, it will likely be appealed regardless of the decision, so Murray said the judge is likely being very precise in how his decision is formulated.
Appalachian Teachers’ Association President Megan Seline focused most of her questions to the board on air quality and the health and safety of staff.
“Is the ETSB providing N95 masks and rapid Covid tests to teachers?” she asked.
Chairman Murray replied, “We are not providing N95 masks, we have not been provided them by the ministry. Rapid tests are available for all teachers in schools, according to the program that we have been given.”
Seline followed up, asking if the ETSB would reimburse teachers if they purchase their own N95 masks and rapid tests. Murray said the board would have to take that under consideration.
Seline went on to inform the board that the ATA sent a letter to the Eastern Townships members of parliament, asking for the creation of a tax exemption for educational sector workers who have to pay for their own PPE so that they can feel safe in their schools. “As provincial governments are unwilling to supply educational sector workers with N or KN95 masks and testing kits, this seems to be an appropriate avenue for the teachers to be able to feel safe,” Seline said, asking if the board would be willing to send a letter as well. Murray said the board would be prepared to consider it and put it on the agenda for a committee meeting in the upcoming month. Seline offered to send the ATA’s letter to the board for consideration, to which Murray replied, that would be very useful, thank you.
Seline later asked if the ETSB had to align its school calendar with that of Val-des-Cerfs.
Murray replied they make an effort to do so, but there are often occasions when the timetables don’t match, and the board will always try to align things, but prioritizes its own programs in planning.
Seline also asked the board status at ETSB schools and centres with regards to CO2 sensors, ventilation and air purifiers.
Broadly, Murray said the ETSB is part of the general deployment of CO2 detectors they’re being installed as fast as they arrive. “The last number I had was about 40 per cent of the classrooms have had them installed,” he said, adding the installation process has to be done in a certain sequence. “We’re doing it as quickly as we can.”
For the balance of the question, Murray referred to Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge’s declaration that air exchangers are available upon request, saying the board has requested them. “We have yet to receive them, so we’re still in limbo on the air exchangers that we would like to install. The other the remaining measures all relate to ventilation where we have consistently recommended opening windows opening doors, letting the air in a classroom be refreshed,” Murray said, relying on the expertise of public health experts that opening windows is an effective way of ventilating a classroom. “The opening of the windows need only last for a matter of minutes,” Murray added, “so we have continued to advocate for what we have available to us while waiting to receive equipment that has been promised but not delivered.”