Lunch, backpack, mask: Toronto District School Board elementary students go back to class

16/09/2020 Admin

The return to school will be spread out over three days

Alexander Partosa walks his daughter, Antoinette Partosa, 9, to her first day of Grade 4 at Portage Trail Community School. On Tuesday, TDSB elementary schools will have their distancing measures and pandemic planning put to the test as the first wave of students return. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Principal Aldo Petrucci has butterflies in his stomach every year at back to school time — but this year, he says, they're "a little more active." 

The area in front of Petrucci's school, Hunter's Glen Junior Public School in Scarborough, was carefully arranged this morning for the return of students. 

Pylons designated where students should line up, with markings showing six-foot distances between them. 

"We also have markings throughout our building, and ample signage for entry and exit and hallway traffic," he told Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa Tuesday.

The preparation carried out by schools will be tested today for the first time, as the Toronto District School Board begins welcoming students back to elementary schools for the first time since March. 

Blue circles painted on the pavement at Portage Trail Community School are meant to help keep students adequately distanced as they head to their classrooms. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Petrucci says he's nervous, but more than anything, excited.

"We missed them so much, whether its in school or in virtual land," he said. "We want them back and we want them learning." 

At Portage Trail Community School in North York, there was a similar sense of anticipation from principal Marcus Peron. 

"We're optimistic. We know our students are resilient," he said. "We're excited to get the day started." 

Students head back in stages

Canada's largest school board is using a staggered reopening plan, which will see different grades come back to school over three days, with specifics varying by school.

Lindsay Matheson's daughter will start senior kindergarten today, while her two older kids will wait until later in the week to go back. 

Heading to school with style: Miriam Murphy walks her daughter, Nancy Murphy, 5, to her first day senior kindergarten at Portage Trail. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

At 8:20 a.m., just before heading out the door, her daughter was "still a bit apprehensive," Matheson told Alfa on Metro Morning. "She's wearing her mask, she says she still doesn't want to go to school."

The jitters, Matheson explained, are less pandemic-related and more focused on the new separation. 

"I think there's going to be some tears, possibly on both ends. She's been with me basically 24/7 since March," she said. 

Other students, like Portage Trail's Xavier Blake, expressed some frustration about the new reality awaiting him in his Grade 8 class. 

"I don't like the vibe," he told CBC Toronto. It's just wearing a mask... I can barely breathe. I have to wear it all's too much." 

Final day to switch to online learning

The board says the drawn-out reopening plan is designed to help children get used to the new safety protocols in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Intensive support programs will begin at all Toronto public schools today, including high schools.

Today is also the last day for parents to decide to register for online learning, says TDSB interim director of education Carlene Jackson.

"They have up until the end of the day to make that final determination," Jackson said, explaining that in general, about 70 per cent of TDSB elementary school students would be returning in person.

Those numbers can vary from school to school, Jackson said, and with parents still making up their minds, the board has warned that some classrooms will exceed class size caps — at least at first. 

"There could be some classes that have at this point, maybe 32 kids in a class. We will be looking at those classes very closely," she said. "We will be adding additional teachers where necessary." 

The board also announced Monday that it was pushing back the start of e-learning courses for all students until next Tuesday, citing a massive spike in enrolment numbers.

There have already been some confirmed cases of COVID-19 in neighbouring school boards, including in Peel, Durham and Halton.

With files from The Canadian Press and Metro Morning

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