Monday, January 24, 2022

Ottawa’s public school board outlines its ‘greatest concerns’ ahead of return of in-person learning

The president of the Ottawa Carlton District School Board says the board’s “biggest concerns have not been addressed” as students and staff prepare to return to class on Monday for the first time in a month.

Chair Lynn Scott and the board are calling on the province to continue to track and publicly report COVID-19 cases in schools and implement a “test to return” strategy for students and staff following COVID-19 illness or exposure .

In a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Scott raised concerns about schools tracking and reporting COVID-19 cases, the lack of N95 masks for students, and the availability of tests.

Ottawa Carlton District School Board students return to class on Monday for the first time in-person learning since the Christmas break begins on December 17. Students are engaged in online learning since January 5.

Scott tells Lecce that the trustees asked him to share a number of “specific requests” related to the reopening of schools next week.

The first of these is the need for continued tracking and public reporting of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases in schools by local public health units, Scott writes. “The reporting rate of absenteeism is an accurate and insufficient proxy for understanding the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in schools.”

The Ontario government announced this week that data on absentee rates would be available for each school, but parents would only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak at a school when about 30 percent of students and staff would be absent.

Parents will not be notified of each COVID-19 case or risk within their child’s school.

“Families should not rely on uninformed absence reports or community rumor to determine whether a child has been exposed to COVID-19 infection at school, or whether there is a risk of exposure to COVID-19 at a school.” The risk exceeds their family’s risk tolerance. In light of other family members who have unique vulnerabilities to the virus,” Scott said.

Earlier this week, Dr. Vera Aches, Medical Officer for Health, said people stay home when they are sick before reaching the 30 percent absenteeism limit at school.

Another concern for OCDSB is the availability of tests for students and teachers. Each student and staff member will receive two COVID-19 rapid tests when in-person learning resumes.

“Students and staff should have access to PCR testing in high-risk and suspected cases of COVID-19,” Scott said.

“In addition, our schools are in need of and supply rapid antigen tests for all students and staff in support of implementing the “Test to Return” strategy after COVID-19 illness or exposure.”

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board is also asking to provide medical masks and non-fit-tested N95 masks for students, with long-term “substantial” funding to upgrade school ventilation systems beyond HEPA filters and a promise that The province will cover any COVID-19 related expenses that are not funded through the budget.

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