The head of the Upper Grand District School Board describes seven positive COVID cases in the first week of school as "very, very low."
“As our colleagues at WDG Public Health have constantly indicated, we should expect that when students return to school when schools reopen, we are going to see positive cases, cases occurring in the community,” said Peter Sovran, adding that with a return to in person school, safety and inclusivity is the number one priority.
Sovran said when the board was responding to the pandemic when it first hit. No one had a play book, but now the board is in a better position to deal with the ongoing pandemic.
“All the measures that we knew were effective last year, continue to be in place. Plus, the addition of all these other measures in particular, the focus around ventilation, some adjustments have been made in terms of students wearing masks and recognizing that in this year as opposed to last year, a really strong emphasis and focus needs to be on having mentally healthy classrooms,” said Sovran.
On his first day as director of education at the board this week, Sovran contacted all the system leads, principals, vice-principals, managers, and supervisors across the system to focus on a new framework for the board.
With education workers getting creative to solve complications that arose during the pandemic, Sovran said it is important to strengthen practices that already have a solid foundation and to look at the past 16 months as a learning opportunity.
“Someone asked me on my very first day what my vision was and I said, ‘Well, instead of me answering the question around what's my vision, I offer to you this framework, and then I invite everyone from our system leaders to our staff to our students and our families and our communities, to give voice to that collective vision,’” said Sovran, who replaced Martha Rogers, UGDSB's previous director of education who led the board for 26 years.
Sovran said education traditionally teaches the R's as reading, writing and arithmetic. Now, he’s inviting them to look at a framework that focuses on re-engaging, refreshing and reimagining the learning and work environments at the UGDSB.
“What in education would have taken years probably happened within weeks or months out of necessity. And I think there's an awful lot that we can learn from,” said Sovran. “I don't think any of us would have imagined prior to March 2020 that we would have been able to continue learning when everyone was in lockdown.”
“Someone said during a recent meeting I was in with other leaders from across the province that they no longer wanted to hear the term ‘let's get back to the way things were,’ and I thought that was very appropriate because we're not looking just to return to February of 2020.”
He said trustees at the UGDSB have shown tremendous leadership in addition to taking guidance from the ministry of education.
This summer, the UGDSB mandated masks in class, in hallways and on school vehicles for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12. This goes beyond the province's directive that requires students from Grade 1 to Grade 12 to wear masks indoors.
The board also went beyond provincial requirements — of situating standalone High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filtration units in all classrooms and learning spaces without mechanical ventilation — by putting HEPA filtration units in classrooms that run the UGDSB’s life skills classes for developmentally delayed students.
UGDSB is also conducting carbon dioxide testing in classes while they are used. It began testing carbon dioxide levels in classrooms last year to confirm filtration equipment is working properly.
Sovran said the vast majority of students in both elementary and secondary schools are attending school in person. With funding from the ministry, students who have not returned have dedicated staff working with them to find suitable learning opportunities.
Sovran said the board is not aware of any incidents of students not returning to school because they’re avoiding vaccination but supports WDG Public Health's position on vaccinations.
“I think Dr. Mercer and her team have been very clear that increasing the number of individuals in our communities that are fully vaccinated is certainly one of the ways in which we can address this pandemic,” said Sovran.