Ottawa school board preparing for return to class; still waiting on deliveries from Province

A trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) says the board is doing all it can to prepare for a return to in-person learning later this month.

The Ontario government shifted schools in the province to remote learning at the start of January because of the rampant spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, setting a target date of Jan. 17 for a return to in-person classes. The extra two weeks were meant to give the government and the school boards time to improve safety and to allow for more students and staff to receive vaccines.

OCDSB trustee Mark Fisher told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s “CFRA Live with Andrew Pinsent” on Sunday that the board is getting ready.

“As a school board, we’re doing everything possible to get our schools ready,” he said. “We did receive the N95 masks that the province had promised us for our staff. We are still waiting for the HEPA filters, so hopefully those extra 80 HEPA filters will be coming this week.”

The additional delivery of air filters would give the OCDSB 2,400 HEPA filters total, Fisher said.

The provincial government recently announced it was suspending the reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools. Fisher said the school board is working on how best to keep parents informed, though no final decisions have been made.

“One avenue that we are looking at and considering is the use of the school attendance program,” Fisher said. “We’re looking at mandatory programs, reporting like that, in order to potentially report COVID-like symptoms or cases. We’re looking at every avenue we have available to use to maybe do reporting in a slightly different way.”

Ontario also recently updated its list of symptoms that would require students stay home from school, once they’re open, and included new guidance on what to do in the case of a single symptom or a mix of symptoms. 

While an official decision on the return to in-person learning has yet to be announced, three pediatricians’ groups have urged the Ontario government to resume in-person learning no later than Jan. 17.

The Canadian Paediatric Society, the Pediatrics Section of the Ontario Medical Association and the Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario said, in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, that, “certain decisions and measures pose a far greater risk to children and youth than the virus itself.”

In the meantime, Ottawa Public Health and CHEO have been working to provide COVID-19 vaccine clinics to education workers to ensure as many teachers and staff as possible have booster shots before classes resume.

“I think it should put everybody’s mind at ease,” Fisher said. “If we can speed that up, particularly for health-care workers, for educators, and for our students, I think that’s just going to make our schools even safer.”

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