As 2020 comes to an end, the SPACE Coalition would like to take this opportunity to reflect on our learnings from this year and look forward to what lies ahead in 2021. The SPACE team has met several times, plus several members of our Leadership Team have attended the TDSB’s Community Use of Schools Community Advisory Committee (CUSCAC) meetings in October, November and December.
Today’s message will:
- share what we heard at CUSCAC meetings,
- note issues and thoughts we have identified regarding community use in general,
- outline our thinking about community use of schools as we move forward through the coming “Vaccine Administration” period and eventually into an anticipated “Herd Immunity” period, and
- provide some additional information resources.
What we heard from the TDSB (numbered for identification)
- When Toronto entered the 2nd lockdown on November 23rd, effective for 28 days, all community use of City of Toronto’s Parks and Recreation facilities stopped.
- There are no additional activities allowed in schools
- Toronto Public Health (TPH) requires enhanced cleaning and disinfecting between a change in cohort.
- Washrooms receive enhanced cleaning and disinfecting twice daily, but are not cleaned after each use. The theory is this level of cleaning is sufficient because the last thing done before exiting a washroom is washing hands with soap.
- The TDSB may reassess phasing in permit use once the lockdown is lifted, as CUSCAC has requested since committee meetings resumed; specifically weekend use as other boards are already looking at this
- All TDSB guidelines for school use are reviewed by Toronto Public Health
- 225 additional caretakers have been hired by the TDSB to cover the enhanced cleaning protocols required due to COVID-19
- TDSB is following the City example; i.e. when the City cancelled their programs, the TDSB cancelled Parks and Recreation use
- TDSB will take request to TPH that permit users consider being defined similarly to the way they define school cohorts; i.e., each classroom is considered a small cohort within the school which is considered a large cohort
- Permit use for teaching essential skills in person, e.g., first aid, has been suspended
- Any group wanting to be reimbursed for cancelled permits should submit their request; funds will be returned the same method in which they were paid. Otherwise, fees paid for unused permits will be applied to future permits.
- The portal for March Break applications will be opened for submission; however this is not a guarantee that permits will be issued.
- TDSB projected enrolment for 2020/2021 school year was down approximately 2,000 students, which contributed to a significant anticipated deficit for the 2020/2021 budget
- Province agreed to asymptomatic screening in schools which has already resulted in the closing of 3 schools in the TDSB (as of Dec 8, 2020)
- Screening questions for students have been updated and tightened
- Focus on Youth was continued this past summer in a modified version. Instead of supporting students in jobs the focus was on reengagement and training for students
- There was an approximate $6M loss in permit revenue this year.
- As of December 8, TDSB staff had not issued permits for January.
Issues, thoughts and questions (numbered for identification)
- Can permit groups do their own cleaning? School board collective agreements with caretakers generally require that union members do the cleaning. However, students and teachers are doing some cleaning within classrooms during classes.
- SPACE recommends using an equity lens for permit decisions both within the vaccine administration period and after. This may mean, for example, taking equity issues into account when deciding whether some schools might allow permits before others, which days to allow permits, etc.
- Pools might be an option for early re-opening as they are a very sanitized environment and may experience limited spread of COVID-19 as a result. However, use of pools is not SPACE’s core issue, and pool permits may not operate on the basis of equity.
- Permits for outdoor space at schools should be explored.
- There would be no access to washrooms, as access would require a permit for the inside of the building. What about port-a-potties? Are there any schools with washrooms nearby?
- Last summer, the City of Toronto, Parks and Rec issued outdoor permits which restricted the number of people present as well as the kinds of activities, e.g., practices only, no games.
- Can the TDSB adapt useful protocols from Parks and Rec or other school boards?
We think there are 2 time periods to consider. The first, vaccine administration, starts with vaccination of the initial priority groups (health care staff and especially vulnerable populations), and continues until a significant proportion of the general population has been vaccinated and herd immunity is attained. During this period, we expect outbreaks and restrictions to continue.
We expect the second period, herd immunity, to become the “New Normal”.
We think SPACE’s resources are best focused on the New Normal, while considering how use of schools can best support residents during the vaccine administration period.
Please join us in this conversation at our next SPACE Zoom meeting on January 26 at 2:30 p.m.
Have a safe and happy holiday season.