Inclusion Westman

TOOL FOR SCHOOL ADVOCACY REGARDING REOPENING OF SCHOOLS IN SEPTEMBER 2020, DURING THE COVID-19 PANDMENIC

Some of our Inclusion Westman families have gotten together to identify questions and concerns for government, school divisions, and schools as we contemplate the reopening of schools in September.

Please consider using this as a tool in your own advocacy with your school and division. It may also be helpful to advocate with school board trustees, the Minister of Education, and your MLA. If Inclusion Westman can be of assistance in your advocating, please get in touch with Amanda Hamm at 204-573-1210.

The more our school and government representatives are made aware of our concerns, the more likely they are to respond and take action on behalf of our children.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

Inclusion Westman is a not for profit agency committed to enriching the lives of those living with intellectual disabilities through advocacy, programming, and education.

We are proud to engage with and represent many individuals and families in the Brandon and Westman area.

We feel compelled to write this letter because we are very concerned about practical issues of health, safety, and scheduling as we look forward to school reopening on September 8th. There is very little substantive information coming forward from government, school divisions, or schools regarding scheduling and any kind of safeguarding for children and staff such as physical distancing and use of masks and PPE. We recognize that the circumstances of Covid-19 are changeable on a daily basis, but ensuring our children and their school staff will be safe on reopening will take considerable planning on the part of school divisions, staff of individual schools, and families. It is unrealistic to expect this planning to take place in the four business days between return of staff to schools on September 2 and children returning on the 8th. Following are the most pressing questions we have addressing these matters:

On a practical level, what will physical distancing look like in classrooms across the region? Will classes have to be divided in order to ensure that safe physical distancing can take place?

  • In circumstances where physical distancing is not always possible (in life skills programs where students require assistance with personal care, for example), what safeguards will be in place to protect both students and staff from infection? Will PPE be required? Will it be provided by the school division, since it is the responsibility of each division to ensure the safety of students and staff? What about more general use of masks? Who will supply the masks to be used? It needs to be taken into account that many people with disabilities have underlying health issues, and are therefore more vulnerable to infection. Therefore, they might need a higher level of protection than the general population.
  • If physical distancing regulations require a division of classes, how will the schedule be changed to accommodate this? Will there be a schedule of alternating days, or half days? Our families will need to make plans for care when our children are not at school, and that can be particularly challenging to arrange, given the particular needs of our children.
  • If a divided class and part-time class attendance becomes necessary, how will the rest of our children’s schooling take place? Will there be a hybrid model of in-class and remote (at home) learning? How will our children be supported under these circumstances?
  • Will the EAs who were laid off in the spring be rehired to support our children at school, and potentially to support remote learning, as required?
  • If the classroom schedule is variable, how will transportation of children to and from school be managed?
  • If in-school learning is offered only on a part-time basis, are government and school administration taking into account the additional stress, both emotional and financial, that this will bring to students and their families in securing appropriate additional support for our children?

If these matters are not addressed, many of our families may need to consider whether it is safe to send their child to school at all. At that point, this becomes a matter of human rights. Children with disabilities have the right to be educated, just as their typically developing peers do, and it is the responsibility of government and school divisions to make this possible. We appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic carries with it a plethora of uncertainties for all of us, and that these uncertainties make it difficult to know what best practices might be. In order to move forward and keep all students and staff safe, decisions need to be made now, so that plans for scheduling and equipment can be put in place in time for school reopening in September.

It is our hope that our network of families and caregivers with lived experience supporting students with disabilities will have a voice at the table, making sure that any policies/guidelines/plans put in place can serve and support the students’ learning in the best way possible during this time of change and beyond. We welcome discussion about these issues.

Amanda Hamm, the Executive Director of Inclusion Westman, can be reached at your convenience by e-mail at inclusionwestman@gmail.com or by calling 204-573-1210.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. We hope that you will take the well-being of all people living with disabilities and their families into account as you move forward with planning for school reopening in September.