Back to School: Parents wait for more details as September nears

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has laid out some of its plans for a return to school in September as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, giving parents some idea of what the return to class will look like.

More information is promised to come Monday.

In an email to families Friday, OCDSB Director of Education Camille Williams-Taylor said students will learn either in person or remotely in the new school year. The decision of whether to send their children back to class in person will be up to families.

In person schooling

Elementary school students who return to the classroom in person will be in class five days per week, the board said, with enhanced health and safety protocols in place.

"Students will remain in one classroom with the same group of students all day, including lunch and when they go outside for recess," Williams-Taylor said.

Students in Grades 9-12 will not return to full time classes in September. The board is dividing the year into four "quadmesters", (i.e., each semester is divided into two sections) and students will take two classes at a time.

Secondary school students who return to class in person will be divided into two cohorts, who will attend class for five days every two weeks.

"Cohort A will attend school 2 days one week and 3 days the next week; Cohort B will do the opposite. All students will be in class for five days in a ten day period," Williams-Taylor said.

The school day dismissal time will be earlier than usual.

Safety measures

For students returning to class in person, there will be enhanced safety measures and requirements at all schools.

  • Before coming to school, all students and staff must complete a COVID-19 self-assessment;
  • Access to school buildings will be restricted to staff and students;
  • Physical distancing and directional signage will be in place in all schools;
  • Upon entry at the school and into each classroom and at lunch and recess, hand washing/sanitizing will be required;
  • All students in grades 4-12 and all staff will be provided with masks and required to wear them in the building, and classroom-based staff will be provided with face shields;
  • Students will have designated desks;
  • School offices will have Plexiglas shields;
  • Access to common areas will be restricted

Under the provincial government's plan, masks are mandatory indoors for all students in grades 4-12. Masks are recommended for students in kindergarten to Grade 3.

Remote learning

Students who remain at home will be required to learn remotely. This will be done through a combination of live, online instruction and posted learning activities.

The board said the remote learning program will be stricter than it was in the spring.

"Remote learning will involve more scheduled learning activities for students than what occurred during the spring closure period, and students will be expected to be online and present for scheduled instructional times," Williams-Taylor said.

Additional information will be shared Monday, Aug. 10. At that time, all families with children in OCDSB schools will receive a form to fill out, indicating whether their children will return to school in person or learn remotely. The form will be due Aug. 14.

Williams-Taylor said the form is mandatory, to help ensure the appropriate staffing levels are in place for both in-person and remote learning.

Parents may be able to change their minds, she said, but not on a regular basis.

"We are planning our school structures with complete semesters in mind (September to January and February to June), but we understand that family realities can change. So, there may be designated points where a requested change can be implemented," Williams-Taylor said. "We will work with families to support students in the best way possible. The timing of requests for change will have to be considered relative to assessment periods, semesters, class size, and available staff. We are working with the Ministry to better understand how to support change requests."

The OCDSB's first day of school is Sept. 3.

Mixed feelings about school year: parents

Parents who spoke to CTV Ottawa on Saturday said they have mixed feelings about the school year.

"We’re gonna send him back, but we have misgivings and reservations about it," said Richard McIntyre.

"We have a lot of fears. We know he needs his school. He needs to be social with kids his own age. We can't homeschool. We tried; it's very difficult," Seran McIntyre said. "I feel also we have no choice. We have to go with the current and see what’s gonna happen."

Flavia Lima said full-time schooling is important, but had concerns about keeping kids separated.

"Even though I think that he should go, school should be full time, I’m too scared how its gonna be. They’re gonna mix up all the bubbles," Lima said.

Other parents, who chose not to give their names, said they were waiting until the last minute or haven't made a decision about whether or not to send their kids back to class because they still don't know how it will all turn out.

Ottawa Catholic School Board

The Ottawa Catholic School Board is promising more information for parents on what a return to school will look like on Aug. 10. 

On their website, the OCSB says parents will receive a survey to fill out by Aug. 14 if they intend to have their children participate in remote learning. Parents who intend to send their kids to class in person do not have to fill out the survey.

There will be designated periods when the decision can be changed. 

"If you are opting-in for elementary or intermediate online learning (Kindergarten to Grade 8), students will be required to participate at home until the first reporting period in November. At that time, options to return to in-class instruction will be reviewed based on available staff and class sizes," the board says. "Secondary students (Grade 9 to 12) that choose online learning will commit to distance learning for the first semester. Then you can change to in-person learning for semester two if you want to."