Mental health support, childcare programs part of Windsor-Essex Catholic board's school plan

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board held a virtual board meeting Wednesday evening to provide details on its back-to-school plans for September amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Region's public and French school boards have yet to release back-to-school plans

Mental health supports, special needs planning and mask-wearing protocol were some of the many topics discussed during Wednesday evening's Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board meeting. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board held a virtual board meeting Wednesday evening to provide details on its back-to-school agenda for September amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The board, which rescheduled the meeting from Tuesday due to technical difficulties, discussed its plans for a safe return to school after the Labour Day long weekend in its primary, middle and secondary schools. 

During the meeting, plans for mental health supports, before and after school childcare programs, special education needs and mask-wearing protocol were discussed, among many other topics. 

Though the plan is being made public, the board said that additional details are still being worked out and changes can still be made. Since the region hasn't entered Stage 3 like the rest of the province, the board said Ontario Premier Doug Ford or Ministry of Education could alter the plans for the region.

Mental health support a "priority"

The school board emphasized that mental health supports would be a "priority" for a successful return to school. Mental health support staff will be available two weeks prior to the start of the school year. 

"This will permit a multidisciplinary approach to supporting students who have been identified as having difficulties with coping and adjustment, and for whom the return to school may cause anxious feelings," reads the plan. 

Mental health professionals and school administrators are being provided with additional training to support students dealing with mental health issues directly related to COVID-19. 

Board members said more details are to come and are asking for community feedback to the plan. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Teachers are also expected to receive additional training so they can identify students who are struggling. 

Parents who think their child requires mental health support are advised to call the school office after Aug. 24. 

Students and staff will have continued support throughout the school year, according to the board. 

Before and after-school childcare programs 

The board said they are "hopeful" they will be able to have childcare partners provide before and after school programming and are meeting regularly to know whether the option will be available. 

The availability of childcare supports depends on various factors, including having enough staff to support the programs and ensuring there is demand for the services. 

The school board said families looking for childcare services are "encouraged" to contact the providers and discuss program availability. 

More information is expected to be available in the coming weeks, the board said. 

Consultations to be scheduled for children with "complex needs" 

The parents of children with "complex needs" or those who are "medically fragile" will be contacted to schedule a consultation with the Local Health Integration Network to allow for an easy transition back. 

The plan states that the consultation will "take place to create and implement plans to support the health and safety needs of the student and the staff who work with them." 

Students with special needs attending elementary school will attend full-time, five days a week and have enhanced safety measures. 

At the secondary level, students with special needs that have a high special education need, are participating in alternative non-credit courses and/or have a developmental diagnosis that requires additional support will have the option of attending class every day schools are open. 

These students will be given one classroom to attend for the rest of the school year. 

The school board said it's having discussions around "mask-free" time for students to take a break from the mask. (Halfpoint/Shutterstock)

All students with special education needs will have their accommodations outlined in their "individual education plan." 

Additionally, school staff who are in close contact with students will be provided personal protective equipment, including educational assistants who work with students with special needs. 

"Mask-free" time being considered

Some trustees said parents were expressing concerns over their children having to wear a mask all day long and wanted to know whether students could have time to remove the mask. 

The board said its looking at allowing "mask-free" time where students could remove the mask and said they are having discussions around whether that could take place during recess or an outdoor break. 

The school board said it will make the plan available on its website and an email will be provided for community feedback. 

The Greater Essex County District School Board, Conseil Scolaire Catholique Providence (Catholic French school board) and the Conseil Scolatire Viamonde (Public French school board) have not put out plans at this time, but are expected to do so in the coming weeks.