Schools have had months to prepare for a year that promises to be unlike any other.

"COVID could be with us for two years. We have to learn to coexist with the virus." Simcoe County District School Board's Trustee Chairperson Jodi Lloyd said the new norm involves some risk. "We're just working hard to manage that risk and reduce that risk for everyone involved."

The school board has 14,000 students currently enrolled in special education and French Immersion programming.

Regardless of whether parents send students to school or opt for distance learning, the school board says an appropriate instructional model will be provided.

The school board is waiting to find out how many students will attend in person and how many will remain home to learn online. It recently emailed an online survey to parents to gain more information to form its plan. The French Immersion program will depend entirely on the numbers and may not be delivered in French, pending teacher availability.

"We really do believe students should return to school, and especially those who are most vulnerable," said SCDSB Superintendent of Program and Special Education Chris Samis.

For the 10,000 students in special education programs, supports and services will continue based on each child's Individual Education Plans (IEP).

Students will have access to sensory rooms, while sensory equipment will be limited to individual students.

Children learning from home will be provided with a virtual classroom teacher and special education staff.

"The relationship between the teacher, the student and the family is what special education is all about. I think that's something that we need to be able to make sure it isn't just about technology. It's about contact. It's about communication," Samis added.

Click here for the SCDSB pre-registration survey.