Lambton schools will be ready in September says public director

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John Howitt, Director of Education

Alex Kurial/Local Journalism Initiative

John Howitt says he’s confident that Lambton Kent schools will be prepared for the province’s reopening plan and high schools will be just as safe as elementary schools.

The Ministry of Education announced on July 30 that children will be returning to class in September. Lambton Kent – like other rural areas – will be allowed to have full class sizes for both elementary and secondary school students.

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“We’re quite comfortable to be one of the non-designated boards and to have full attendance at our secondary schools,” says Howitt.

In districts with larger cities, high school students will attend school about half the time, and be limited to 15 kids per class.

“The majority of our secondary schools are smaller than some of our elementary schools. So we’re confident that our secondary schools will be as safe as our elementary schools” Howitt says.

Howitt is also comfortable with the mask requirement. They are mandatory for students in Grades 4 and up and recommended for Grades 3 and under.

“As a non-medical professional I need to trust the advice of the Ministry of Education and the research that they have done to make that determination. And we’ll do our best to implement the policies as directed,” says Howitt.

The government also announced more than $300 million in new spending, including $60 million for PPE and masks, $50 million to hire nurses to help in schools, $25 million for cleaning supplies, and $10 million for special needs students.

“We’re very appreciative that there’s recognition of the need for additional funding. It’s too early for us to comment on whether it will be sufficient for our needs or not,” says Howitt.

“It is good to know that the PPE for our staff to help them be well and safe while working with their students will be funded, as well as a mask for each student. So we know that the ministry is taking care of that and not expecting that to fall to board budgets,” Howitt says.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, agreed.

“We are pleased to see the government acknowledge the need for funding in a number of the areas that we have previously identified as priorities, including PPE and cleaning, mental health, special education, and training and professional development.”

“These measures will enable school boards to better provide classroom environments that allow students to succeed,” says Abraham.

The Lambton Kent school board will now conduct a parent survey to see if they plan to allow their children to return to school or continue with the online learn-at-home program. The St. Clair Catholic School Board is also taking part in the poll.

Howitt says the school board started “communicating with our families today to start seeking parents’ choice of whether they will be coming to school on September 8.”

He says the poll is being conducted “so that we can understand the numbers and be able to design our programs once we know from parents what their choices are.”

“It is important that we hear from our parents and guardians as we continue to develop our plans,” says St. Clair Catholic director of education Deb Crawford. “Our goal is to provide an excellent learning experience for all St. Clair Catholic students, in school environments that promote health, safety and well-being for all.”

The survey will be emailed to parents. Anyone without an email on file is asked to contact their school board to fill out the poll.

The school boards ask that parents consider their choice carefully, since it will be difficult to reverse the decision after Aug. 28.