“We’re taking things nice and slow” says Paolo Galati SWLSB chairperson

Dimitris Ilias

It felt like the first steps in a new world, a new reality created by an unrelenting virus that forced the planet in an unprecedented lockdown. Children driven by their parents or arriving by school bus returning to the first schools that opened in Canada after 2 months of isolation. Things will not be the same to be sure, yet no matter how different the school environment has become, one cannot deny the optimism and warm feelings we get seeing some degree of normalcy returning to our lives

8 schools reopen
Arundel, Grenville, Laurentia, Laurentian, Morin-Heights, Rawdon, Sainte-Adèle and Sainte-Agathe Academy elementary schools opened on May 11th. Four out of the eight schools did a progressive reopening until Wednesday. Initially 9 schools were supposed to reopen but Joliette was included in the greater Montreal met area and its opening date pushed back to the 25th of May. “Overall, the feedback was very positive and everything went smoothly at the school level as well as the transportation level. We are taking things nice and slow” said Paolo Galati, Chairperson of the board of commissioners of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School board. The remaining 18 elementary schools are expected to open on May 25th.
A lot of prep work
Paolo Galati and Gaëlle Absolonn, DG of SWLSB, both did their inspection tours last week for the safety measures put in place. They spoke with administrators and teachers who were prepping their classes. The teachers admitted to some initial anxiety which dissipated for the most part after they went into the buildings and were able to experience first hand the new reality. Some schools sent videos and pictures to students in order for them to know what to expect and parents prepared their children for all the new safety measures. “I can reassure you that the school teams worked tirelessly all week to be ready for the opening and I thank them all” said Galati. He noted that there were some challenges like narrow corridors, smaller classrooms and the difficulty that younger students have to properly social distance which were overcome thanks to a lot of teamwork and creative space restructuring.
25% of students returned
311 out of 1325 students from the 8 schools returned according to Mr. Galati. 200 of them were bused. There are parents that are waiting one more week to see how things go. “25% returning is a good percentage because we can do a small roll in” said Galati. “We took all necessary measures in accordance with the ministry in order to provide the maximum degree of safety to our students, staff and families and as an executive member of the Quebec English School Board Association I meet with the other boards once a week to discuss what everyone is doing safety-wise and how we can improve our services” added Galati.
Safety measures
Here is a general idea of the safety measures from the Quebec Government that the schools have to take in order to avoid the spread of the virus:
People must avoid greetings that involve physical contact, as well as sharing items.
Groups must take their recess and move about the school at different times.
Telework must be prioritized if staff are not required to be in the school to carry out certain tasks.
As much as possible, people must avoid
Students and staff must limit the items they carry with them between school and home and must bring their own lunch.
Students and staff who have a condition that increases their risk for serious complications of COVID-19 are advised to stay home until September 2020.

Reorganization of rooms
The number of children per group, the teacher-child ratio and the physical organization of rooms must take into account the need to comply with the physical distancing standard of 2 metres at all times.
Using visual markers in order to comply with the physical distancing standard of 2 metres is encouraged.
Some facilities such as libraries and computer laboratories are closed.
Play structures may not be used.

Health and hygiene measures
Alcohol-based hand rub, soap and disposable paper towels are provided for students and staff to encourage very frequent handwashing during the day.
Hand hygiene must be performed when entering the school, before and after each recess, before and after eating food, after blowing your nose and when leaving the school.
Tissues are provided for students and staff in order to comply with cough and sneeze etiquette.
Rooms are cleaned daily.
Washrooms and surfaces that are touched regularly (door handles, switches, offices, computer equipment, microwave ovens, drinking fountains, faucets, etc.) are cleaned with the usual cleaning products several times a day.
Items that are shared by several students are cleaned after each use.
Staff in elementary schools are not required to wear a face covering. However, anyone who would like to do so can read the information sheet Wearing a Face Covering in Public Settings This hyperlink will open in a new window. to find out how to make a face covering and how to use it properly.
Staff in educational childcare services are provided with additional personal protective equipment, since it is impossible to maintain a physical distance of 2 metres between themselves and the young children under their care.