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Return to TLDSB schools sees new COVID-19 related changes

DAN CEARNS, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, for The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: Due to the ongoing changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, things are changing for staff and students at Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) schools.

“Obviously, the return to school has been eventful, and filled with change and increased anxiety for staff and families. That does not go unrecognized by us,” Director of Education Wes Hahn said, at a meeting on Tuesday, January 11th.

Director Hahn noted enhanced screening measures, and adding more HEPA filters as a couple things the board is doing to keep schools safe. “We do know our N95 masks, that we’ve been waiting on, have been delivered to us and Superintendent [Tim] Ellis and his team are in the process of making sure our staff have those for Monday,” Director Hahn added.

The school board has a plan if COVID-19 infections among staff or students make it difficult for schools to operate.

“If we have absences of staff [which] get to a point where we can’t run the school effectively, or run a classroom effectively, then we will move online,” Director Hahn explained.

It will now be up to school boards to decide if schools or classrooms need to be closed due to COVID-19 cases.

“That is now our decision. Having said that though…if we ever had a question, a scenario or a situation that we just weren’t sure of, we know we can reach out to our public health units. And they’ve been excellent. But for the most part, this is a decision that will be made by us because the data and the contact tracing is not being done by public health,” Director Hahn stated.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday, January 12, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s (HKPR) Medical Officer of Health Dr. Natalie Bocking discussed this matter.

“As part of the updated guidance, there is no requirement for schools to report COVID-19 cases to Public Health. And, in fact Public Health would likely not be necessarily aware of a COVID-19 case in a school, because they are not being tested using a PCR test,” she said. Dr. Bocking added the health unit will consult with school boards if their absenteeism rate gets very high.

There is also new isolation guidance for students and staff.

“All members of a household are required to isolate if one member is experiencing [COVID-19] symptoms, regardless of vaccination status. So, in the past there was some leeway in terms of people being vaccinated, but this is a fairly large change,” Superintendent Paul Goldring said.

The school board still plans to move forward with implementing a semester system in their secondary schools in February.

Director Hahn noted the quadmester system has worked without having to cohort high school students, so that gives them confidence they can move forward with bringing semesters back. He also pointed out vaccination rates are increasing for this age group.

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