Dear Parents, Guardians and Caregivers and Staff,
As we approach the beginning of September, it is important that I take this opportunity to reach out to parents and students who are preparing for a return to school in a matter of days. I want to welcome all our students and staff back to this new school year and to let you know how excited we are to reconnect with you again!
As Chair of the Board, and as a parent and grandparent, I am delighted by the return of your children to another year of learning so that they can continue to realize their potential in our schools. This transition back to school is taking place while we all continue to take the necessary precautions and care to stay healthy during the pandemic. I know that you’ve heard through our social media channels and our most recent series of board meetings this summer, that all schools in the Upper Canada District School Board are investing in the necessary precautions that promote enhanced health and hygiene practices, when our staff and students are at school, for example: wearing of masks/face coverings, hand hygiene and physical distancing. Of course, the pandemic is a community-based issue and we want to ensure that our schools are doing their part to keep the community transmission rates of COVID-19 low and under control. Given these circumstances, we are also teaching our students about the responsibilities of active citizenship and what it means to live our lives responsibly and with an appreciation of the broader challenges around us.
Indeed, there is a need to appreciate the broader challenges around us resulting from the pandemic and this begins by acknowledging the stellar work of all our UCDSB employees over the past five months. The efforts of our Director of Education, superintendents, teachers, local school principals, vice-principals and support staff have made possible the return to a regular day school program in our schools this fall, beginning on Friday, September 11. Their collective efforts to also deliver remote learning, in real-time, from April 2020 to June 2020 means we have a good start for delivering the choice of remote learning to students and families who feel this best serves their needs during the 2020-2021 school year. Nevertheless, we must all agree that this year’s school reopening is like no other in recent memory. As the Minister of Education remarked a few months ago, “[we] are in unprecedented times …when schools reopen, we know that school may not look or feel the same.” These are wise words, and our Board of Trustees and staff all ask for your continued patience, understanding, and support as we prepare for the first day of school and beyond.
Regrettably, parents may have received a communication this past weekend from one of our labour groups that served to diminish the accomplishments and exemplary work that our frontline employees have demonstrated over the last five months. Furthermore, their communication featured misleading and inaccurate information about how we are approaching program delivery for remote learning that fully attends to district guidelines for privacy and security in virtual environments.
I cannot fathom why the communication shared by the teachers’ federation failed to acknowledge that the remote learning guidelines for privacy and security have been in place since May 2020. How strange it was for the Board of Trustees to learn that the union’s letter was circulated just mere hours after senior administration from the board had briefed our union presidents about the current approach for delivering remote learning in our school district. For those who care to know the facts, allow me to share the following:
- Livestreaming will not be livestreaming resembling what is used in reality TV programs where multiple cameras are videoing participants. Rather, drawing on our past experiences from the last five months of teachers teaching synchronously, I can tell you that it will be quite the contrary. The current classroom model under development by staff for remote/synchronous will be more akin to the experience of staff using their notebook computer to run a Microsoft Teams platform video conferencing app, with the options for participants to be on video or not, the ability to ask questions using the chat feature, view documents, etc.
- Teachers will be able to place their laptop computers camera to face in the direction of their choosing. Children that cannot be videoed would not be.
- As well, teachers as licensed professionals, have an obligation to follow the professional advice of the Ontario College of Teachers including the use of electronic communications and video conferencing guidelines, which includes:
- understand their professional boundaries and responsibilities in the appropriate use of electronic communication;
- respect the privacy and confidentiality of student information and others in your school community;
- use employer-approved digital platforms and technology; and
- become familiar with each platform and its guidelines to ensure confidentiality and privacy.
In their efforts to address their duties and commitments to our students, I cannot accept that any of our local teachers — many of whom are our family members, neighbours and friends — would not understand their professional responsibilities to teach their students with the care, safety, and privacy in mind.
It is important to note that over 900 of our educators were involved in virtual professional learning sessions last week, which focused on eight different topics including the use of our video-conferencing tools. This was well in advance of the scheduled professional development days for all school staff that starts on September 1. This speaks to our staff’s deep commitment as learners, their professional interests to prepare for their duties, and to improve in their craft.
While our local labour executives have overlooked the opportunity to do so, I want to acknowledge how our frontline teachers are doing all they can to prepare and welcome children to the start of this new school year — whether in-person or online. Members of the Board of Trustees wish you to know that we are here to support your efforts to build on your program delivery experiences from last year.
Let’s keep our attention on what matters most: the safe return and successful start of students in their school program this September and recognizing the exemplary work that our staff are doing right now to prepare for their arrival on September 11.
Upper Canada District School Board.