Students in Windsor-Essex are heading back to the classroom Monday
In-person learning for the region will begin on Feb. 8
After finding out that students can head back to the classroom on Monday, Rachela Bucek says her kids were "out of their mind happy."
Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Wednesday that the region will join 12 other health units in resuming in-person classes next week. Chatham Kent and Sarnia-Lambton school boards will also welcome students back.
Students in only three regions — Peel, York and Toronto — will remain at home for an extra week and return on Feb. 16, the day after Family Day.
Both of Bucek's kids, who attend a local Catholic school, were attending classes since the start of the year, she said. But when the region's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed shut schools on Dec. 14, they've been online learning ever since.
"The children have had a really hard time being at home throughout all this," she said.
So when they found out they could finally get back to class, Bucek says her son was "screaming out of his lungs" from excitement.
"He was like 'oh my God, none of this online school crap anymore,' and my daughter was like 'oh my God, I can see my friends,'" she said.
Bucek's said she's also glad they're going back because both she and her husband can't work from home. Since mid-December, she's only worked weekends in order to stay home with the kids during the week.
"It's been really hard on us as a family," she said. "I'm just glad. The children need normalcy ... We try as much as we can to do at home what they can do in school but they need the structure that the school provides them."
New safety measures added
But students will head back with increased health and safety measures, according to the province.
All students from Grades 1 to 12 will be required to wear masks in the classroom, hallways and when outside, unless they are at a physical distance of two metres from others, the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) said in a news release. Students taking the bus must also wear masks while on board.
The public board said it is also encouraging students in junior and senior kindergarten to wear masks. It added that in addition to the masking, secondary students and staff have to complete a daily COVID-19 assessment on its website before attending school each day.
"We're pleased that we have a date that our students who are learning through the in person model can return to schools," said GECDSB spokesperson Scott Scantlebury. "We had worked very hard to prepare to make sure primarily we communicated all the information that we needed to communicate and we're pleased now that we have a date that's finalized."
He said they are ready to have students return on Feb. 8, but noted that any students who requested a learning model change by the Jan. 26 deadline will have to wait until Feb. 16 for that switch to take effect.
This means for students wanting to go from online to in-person, they'll have to wait an additional week.
This is the result of staffing adjustments that need to be made, Scantlebury said.
Catholic board gives new dates to switch learning model
As for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB), a statement to families said that starting next week students will return to the learning model they were enrolled in before schools closed in December.
Parents who do not want their children to return to in-person learning are to contact the principal of their school, the board said.
Starting Feb. 16, the board said elementary teachers will use webcams to support students who aren't returning to the classroom.
"This temporary hybrid model will be an option for those students who are currently learning in-person," the board said, adding that more details will be released soon.
Meanwhile, secondary students in cohorts A and B, who began a quad 3 schedule on Wednesday, will continue to follow that for the rest of the year, according to WECDSB.
In addition to this, the dates for parents to declare a learning model switch have now been pushed to March. For elementary schools the declaration forms will open on March 22 and close March 26. All elementary students will begin their final learning model on April 12.
"Realizing that these are very challenging times and parents may not be comfortable making a decision on the learning modality for their child for the rest of the year, we are trying to defer that final decision as long as we can," the board said.
There was no date to switch learning models provided for secondary students.
In addition to masking and screening measures, the government has also introduced the following:
- Provincewide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff.
- Providing 3.5 million high quality cloth masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1 to 12 students.
- Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school.
- Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.