CORNWALL, Ontario – In a report to the Board, administration for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) explained their preference to push the first day of the 2020-2021 school year back to Friday, Sept. 11 from Friday, Sept. 4.
Under the plan presented by Schools Superintendent Marsha McNair, elementary school students from Grades K-8 with surnames that start with A-G will start on Sept. 11. Students with surnames starting with H-P will start on Monday, Sept. 14 and students with surnames starting with Q-Z will start on Tuesday, Sept. 15.
For secondary school students, Grade 9 students will start on Sept. 11, Grade 10 students on Sept. 14, and Grade 11 and 12 students on Sept. 15. Students who begin on Sept. 11 will be expected to be in class on Sept. 14 and 15 and students who start on Sept. 14 will continue on Sept. 15 as well.
Board Trustee Jamie Schoular who represents Merrickville-Wolford, Rideau Lakes, Smiths Falls, and Westport raised concerns about this sudden change in start dates, explaining that his constituents had made arrangements such as childcare, based on the Sept. 4 start date. He asked administration if there was anything to be done to help parents in such situations, but did not receive the support of his colleagues to make a motion.
“Comments I’ve gotten are all over the map,” said Trustee William MacPherson. “Some say we should have gone with the fourth, others say Sept. 11 is too soon. My comments that I’ve been getting that as far as the first of October.”
“I say err on the side of caution and go with the scattered start,” said Trustee Lisa Swan.
In addition to the change in the start of the school year, the Board also heard about changes to the in class and remote learning streams that will be offered this year.
According to Schools Superintendent Susan Rutters, instead of having separate teachers for remote learning students, those students would be in class virtually with their peers, learning from the same teacher as the other students in their class who are at the school at the same time.
Rutters explained that this change became necessary over the past few days after a survey completed by parents and students came back with double the amount of respondents preferring remote to in class learning.
“To meet this challenge, we first considered a full reorganization of physical schools to free up more teachers for remote learning,” Rutters explained, but said they quickly found this option to be cost prohibitive and would not meet the need in any case.
In a survey sent out by the Board in July 10 per cent of respondents indicated their preference for remote learning, that number jumped to 20 per cent with their most recent survey.
Parents have until Friday, Aug. 28 at 9 a.m. to request remote learning.
An issue was raised around the ability of parents and students to switch from one stream to another, with administration not being able to guarantee that such switches could be made. Rutters explained that while it was very likely that such changes would be possible, but they could not guarantee that cohort sizes, and teacher availability would always permit switching between streams.
“COVID was not invented by the UCDSB, we are trying to fly a plane while we build it,” explained Board Chair John McAllister at the start of the meeting.
“We have never opened schools before with these advanced health measures,” added Director of Education Stephen Sliwa. “For our in person school operations, it means that we have to give our principals and teachers enough time to respond to these rapid changes.”
The Board of Trustees received the report.