Health unit reviewing school plans

By Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Health unit reviewing school plans
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. Seaway News file photo.

CORNWALL, Ontario – As the start of the 2020-21 school draws closer, local health units are in the process of reviewing school boards’ plans to return to in-class learning this fall.

The provincial return-to-class plan announced July 30th has come under fire for not maintaining the two metre physical distancing guidance, and maintaining existing class sizes for rural and small schools at pre-COVID-19 levels.

Each school board was required to submit a plan by August 4th outlining how back-to-school would look in each board. These plans were developed and continue to evolve with input from local health officials.

Eastern Ontario Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis said that he continues to review and work with the school boards.

“Recognizing the inconsistency and variability in school/class sizes, I am currently working with each school board to look at the balance between class sizes, the age, and mitigating risks as much as possible,” Roumeliotis said. “This will need to be done on a class-by-class basis.”

He said that each class will be considered a “bubble” or cohort, and that whether a student is masked or not has an impact. Under the provincial plan, students in Grade 4 and up are required to wear a face mask or covering in all indoor school spaces including the classroom.

“My preference is to keep the class sizes small enough to be a cohort – less than 20,” said Roumeliotis. “In situations with more, we will be looking at in-class distancing and other options.”

He said that the EOHU, and the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark Health Unit are working together with the school boards at options. The two health units share jurisdiction over the Upper Canada District School Board and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Both health units share jurisdiction with Ottawa Public Health for the two French-language school boards in the region.

A challenge for the health units with reviewing the plans is balance Roumeliotis said.

“The premise is balancing the need for in-person learning, particularly in elementary school, and creating situations that minimize the risk of transmission,” he said. “We know that higher numbers of interactions, prolonged interactions, and crowding, are all factors that increase the risk.”

The UCDSB released its return-to-school plan on July 22nd and will present an update on August 14th. The CDSBEO approved its plan at an in-camera meeting July 29th and will release it to the public following Ministry of Education approval. The 2020-21 school year is set to begin September 4th.

This story was originally written for and published by the Morrisburg Leader.

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