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Classes closed at NFSB, students and staff adapting to new hybrid model

Parents of students attending Heritage Elementary School received the dreaded letter on Oct. 14 explaining that someone in the school community had tested positive for COVID-19.

The class in question was immediately sent home for the day, and parents were informed of the situation. Fortunately, the student had not been in attendance during the contagious period and public health authorities informed the administration that the class could be called back to school the next day.

“It is troubling times to do that,” New Frontiers School Board director general Rob Buttars says of having to send out the letter and close classrooms suddenly. “It is a disruption for many when you have to send a class home,” he acknowledges, adding that the case at Heritage serves as a reminder that we are not immune in the Valley.

The NFSB currently has a class that has been closed at Howard S. Billings High School (HSB) in Chateauguay as a result of a student being diagnosed with the virus who had been attending classes. A similar situation has seen a class sent home from St-Wilibrord Elementary School as well. Nevertheless, in comparison with some of the more urban school boards that have been dealing with outbreaks and complete school closures, “We are on the lower end,” Buttars says of the number of cases diagnosed so far within the NFSB. “We err on the side of safety and we are in contact constantly with Santé Publique.”

As of last Friday, all NFSB schools are located in the red zone. Students at the elementary level will not notice much of a change, but teachers and staff will be expected to wear a mask at all times. It will be at the secondary or high school level that students will be impacted by new measures, as all will now be required to wear masks throughout the day, and as of Monday students in Grades 10 and 11 started to alternate between online and in-person learning.

The hybrid model has been in place at HSB for both Grade 10 and 11 students since the start of the school year. “I know we will get the collaboration in the Valley,” says Buttars, of the significant transition now facing Grade 10 students at CVR. “We are getting better at the online learning,” he adds, suggesting he is not concerned going forward as the hybrid model has been working at HSB. “There are opportunities for learning and because [the students] are present 50 per cent of the time, the connection is there,” he says.

Buttars maintains that while this is a difficult period, there will be takeaways from the pandemic in education. “It is an opportunity to try innovative ideas,” he says. For example, the NFSB is partnering with the Lester B. Pearson School Board in providing distance learning to students with medical exemptions to ensure they reach the numbers they need to run classes at every grade level. He admits, however, that a key issue remains student engagement. Currently, the hybrid models in the adult sector have resulted in some of the highest attendance percentages ever seen at the NFSB. At the high school level, he admits the senior classes are growing increasingly stressed about the entry to CEGEP and how this will play out with exams and the different learning models. There is also some concern about drop-out rates as in many ways, online learning is simply not as effective for all students.

Even with all the uncertainty, Buttars remains optimistic for the school year and is “appreciative of all the staff going the extra distance at this point.” He is also especially pleased to report that what he is hearing from the school administrations are stories of exceptional collaboration and communication on the part of parents with the schools.

“We have to be the light in the tunnel,” he says of the school community. “Because right now, we can’t see the light at the end.”

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