Nfld. & Labrador

Attendance solid through 1st full week of school, says NLESD boss

Despite talk of kids being sick and the strain on 811, the vast majority of kids are going to school.

Meanwhile, school lunch program working through major cost increases

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says attendance has been solid throughout the first full week of school in the pandemic. (Mike Moore/CBC)

Despite talk of kids being sick and the resulting strain on 811, the vast majority of kids are going to school, according to Newfoundland and Labrador English School District CEO Tony Stack.

Speaking with CBC News, Stack said 90 per cent of kids were in schools on Thursday, providing a snapshot of attendance across the province.

"The academic year is unfolding very cautiously and very deliberately," Stack said.

Stack said the focus so far has been on social and emotional learning, paying close attention to any anxieties students might have as they go back to busy spaces for the first time since March.

As for the children who are at home and want to keep up with work, Stack said parents can contact the school for guidance. If they're out for more than two weeks, a learning plan will be done with the school.

Tony Stack is the NLESD's CEO and director of education. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

He says the virtual learning resources being put in place are for severely immunocompromised children who cannot go to school.

"Even the chief medical officer has put out an advisory saying that even students who are immunocompromised, given the low prevalence of COVID, can attend in-class instruction. But there are some students that if a specialist doctor is treating that child and that specialist doctor sends us correspondence, then we will look at that as an approved request and we will implement the service."

Stack said he recently spoke with the board's longtime consultant, Ontario educator and author Michael Fullan, who described the education system in Newfoundland and Labrador as a "light in the tunnel."

School lunch program hurting

Everyone is doing their best to adapt, but the COVID-19 pandemic has hit some school groups harder than others.

The province's school lunch program, for example, is facing a $100,000 spike in costs due to the pandemic.

Executive director John Finn says COVID-19 means big changes for how the organization provides 6,000 meals a day to 36 schools across the province.

John Finn, former MHA for Stephenville-Port au Port, is now the executive director of School Lunch Association N.L. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"We're looking at approximately a $100,000 increase in labour alone, in that we now have to have staff that will have to be at the sites for longer, will have to start earlier, and stay longer," Finn said. "There's some sites where we historically have two staff — now we need four in an effort to sanitize and prepare the meals."

He said some cafeterias are operating at 50 per cent capacity and spacing kids out, while others are doing staggered lunch schedules, or a combination of both.

The program operates with money from the sale of meals, fundraising, donations and a small amount from the provincial government.

While it's an expensive learning curve, Finn said they are doing their best to adapt.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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