Back to school 101: What Windsor-Essex parents need to know as online learning resumes

For the second time since December, schools in Windsor-Essex are shutting down, and switching to online learning only next week.

Here's a look at what the return to school will look like in our region

Students are returning to online learning next week amid a province-wide surge in COVID-19 cases. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

For the second time since December, schools in Windsor-Essex are shutting down and switching to online learning next week.

The announcement was made on Monday — just a day after Ontario's education minister issued a letter to parents saying schools would stay open for in-class learning after the spring break.

The change comes amid an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases across the province that is bringing hospital resources to the brink.

And while Windsor-Essex has not been nearly as hard hit in this wave of the pandemic thus far, the cancellation was imposed province-wide.

Here's what parents need to know:

When does school resume?

In a media release on Wednesday, the Greater Essex County District School Board said instruction will resume on Tuesday, April 20.

That's a day later than when school was supposed to restart after the spring break.

But students aren't off the hook on Monday. The board said elementary and secondary school teachers will be connecting with their students to determine technical needs and access to resources.

"They will also provide students with some work for the day they can complete, independently," the board said in a memo.

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board told students to take home their supplies before the break in the event that a switch to online learning was enacted, a spokesperson for the board said.

The majority of students are expected to be able to make the switch on Monday.

Are there any exceptions?

The exception to the switch to online learning is students in special needs programs.

Within the Catholic board, some will be allowed to return to classrooms if they wish, but the start of school will be delayed until Tuesday.

"If you are a parent of a student with special needs who is eligible and you wish for them to return to school, you can expect to hear from your school on Monday, April 19," the board said in a memo.

Students in the public system who are enrolled in GAINS and STEPS programs can return to school physically starting on Tuesday.

"A staff member will be in contact on Monday, April 19, to discuss schedules and student transportation," a note posted on the board's website states.

What if my family needs a laptop to participate in online learning?

Both boards are telling parents to reach out to the office of their school if they have technology needs.

The Catholic board said it will try to accommodate requests "keeping in mind that we do have a limited supply of devices."

How many cases of COVID-19 are within Windsor-Essex schools?

There are three schools currently in outbreak: St. John Vianney Catholic School, Centennial Central Public School and St. Peter Catholic School.

The outbreak at St. Peter has the largest number of active cases, with five students infected. The outbreak is also the only one of the three that involves one of the more contagious variants of concern.

Within the Catholic board, there are 11 active cases in total, while the public board has seen 19 cases so far this month.

Dr. Wajid Ahmed, medical officer of health for Windsor-Essex, has expressed concern about the rise of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children but said the transmission was largely occurring within homes rather than schools.

"But there is some community transmission that's being reported," he said at the health unit's daily briefing on Friday.

Earlier this week, the health unit said 431 students and staff across 15 schools were isolating due to potential COVID-19 exposures.

How long are schools expected to be closed?

The short answer is, the school boards don't know — and neither does the province.

When the shutdown was announced, Ontario Premier Doug Ford did not say when he thinks classrooms should be able to reopen. He said officials will be looking at the trends and data.

Dr. David Williams, the province's medical officer of health, said a prolonged shutdown is "prudent."

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