Boardroom Briefs

October 14, 2020 Meeting of LDSB Board of Trustees

Boardroom Briefs is intended to provide highlights of presentations, reports and decisions made at the regular meeting of the Limestone District School Board of Trustees. These briefs do not serve as the official record of the meeting. Please refer to Board minutes which are approved at the next regular meeting. Community members are also invited to follow along during live tweets of regular Board meetings using the hashtag #LDSBmtg.

Private Session Update

Vice Chair Laurie French provided a public report of topics discussed in private session which are held prior to Public Session. The minutes from the following meeting were approved: Board Meeting September 9; Audit Committee September 14; and Education, Policy and Operations Committee (EPOC) September 23. During Private Session of EPOC, there were two personnel updates. In tonight’s Private Session there was a labour update and a motion passed regarding ratification of tentative Collective Agreement between the Board and ETFO Occasional Teachers. A personnel update and legal matter were also discussed. No other items were discussed or subject to a motion.

Chair's Report

Chair Suzanne Ruttan stated it was great to see students fully engaged both in-class and virtually using adaptive models of learning to respond to this new normal. She remarked that secondary students have just started Block 2 of classes, and acknowledged the efforts by staff who have worked tirelessly to put systems in place to support students.

She thanked Limestone Trustees for putting their names forward for leadership positions at the Ontario Public School Board Association’s AGM and congratulated Trustee French on her re-election as President of the Canadian National School Boards’ Association.

Chair Ruttan reported that Limestone had its first case of COVID-19 identified in a school. She reminded Trustees, that a positive case at a school does not mean individuals were exposed to the virus at a school, nor does it require a school closing down. She thanked staff for their efforts over the past two weekends notifying the affected school cohorts. She added that LDSB and KFL&A Public Health continue to build capacity to communicate swiftly and with accurate information.

She stated that we all have a responsibility to complete the daily self-screening of COVID-19 symptoms, follow public health guidelines, and stay home when sick. Adding that it will take all of us working together, to keep community cases to a minimum, and keep schools open for the important role they provide to students and families.

In closing, Chair Ruttan recognized the career of Superintendent of Education Andre Labrie, who recently announced his retirement, effective October 31, 2020. Superintendent Labrie has served as the Board’s Chief Negotiator and has a strong provincial profile as a member of various work teams with responsibilities for providing input to the Ministry of Education Labour tables. She stated that Mr. Labrie has been a tireless advocate for students and staff, always holding their best interests and well-being at the forefront. She said Trustees wish him all the best in his well-deserved retirement.

Director's Update

Director Burra stated that he has now visited almost 30 schools to date, and he continues to be impressed with how staff and students have adapted to new realities - a testament to the dedication and hard work of all staff across the system in making things work and doing their best.

Limestone has had three positive COVID cases identified in schools, all tied to other positive cases from the community. Mr. Burra added that cases in schools are not unexpected and the board has worked closely with KFL&A Public Health to prepare. Staff have identified areas for fine-tuning once a case has been identified, and these processes have worked very effectively. He acknowledged the extraordinary work by central and school-based staff in effectively responding to these three cases and working with public health to further mitigate risk and communicate with the school community.

Given the increase in cases across Ontario, as a district, Director Burra explained that Limestone needs to be ready to pivot toward online learning should a class/cohort/school experience an outbreak, or the province enacts more stringent emergency management measures. Families have a choice of selecting virtual schooling or conventional face-to-face classes in schools but this creates tensions trying to identify another transition point for families.

Director Burra said important work this fall includes a focus on ensuring safe, equitable and inclusive teaching, learning and working environments for all students and staff.

The school district recognized Orange Shirt Day on September 30 to create awareness and honour the individual, family and community intergenerational impacts of Residential Schools in Canada. He stated that the board has begun the critical work of confronting anti-Black racism. Trustees will receive a draft LDSB Equity Action Plan later this fall that outlines the districts' actions and outcomes for the next few years. He stated schools must be places where everyone values diversity, respects each other, and see themselves reflected in their learning and school/classroom environment.

Mr. Burra acknowledged the leadership of the Board of Trustees over the past few months in requesting information and passing several motions. At all times, but particularly in crises, Limestone must be responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.

Further, it is important to remind ourselves that the pandemic has exacerbated needs in the larger community, and the most vulnerable members are arguably more at risk than at any other point in recent memory. Consequently, next week Limestone will launch its 2020 campaign in support of United Way which provides many essential supports for the most vulnerable students and families. Director Burra hopes we all will contribute what we can to support fellow community members in need.

Presentation on Read-a-lot@Home

Trustees were pleased to be presented with details on the Read-a-Lot at Home summer literacy program, provided online due to COVID-19 protocols. Curriculum Consultant Erica Wyncoll and Metis Knowledge Keeper Candace Lloyd shared their experiences over the three-week program. Ninety students participated supported by 18 instructors and 5 tutors. Families were provided with literacy kits to support their learning. Although the program was online, it provided the same focus on learning, collaboration and diagnostics.

Images of items used for the program and its Mission Statement.
The virtual model allowed for Indigenizing online learning. The Read-a-Lot@Home was specifically designed to incorporate three main ideas: learning should be relationship-based, land-based, and have opportunities to listen to knowledge keepers. This included storytelling as way to pass on values and way of life to others - to engage everyone.
Image of a lake and items used for Indigenous online learning.
Student achievement data focused on three skills: Phonemic awareness (oral skill); Phonics (matching grahemes (letters) to the sounds); and Writing. Diagnostics showed great improvement for student participants.

The student and parent feedback showed that the program exceeded expectations - even though some were hesitant about online learning. Both educators and students were all surprised to see solid growth for three weeks. The students knew how much they had learned and were happy to celebrate the growth.

OPSBA Report

Trustee French provided a detailed report of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) Annual General meeting, which included a presentation on COVID-19 outbreak response and management.

She reported OPSBA continues to provide advocacy on behalf of school boards with regard to ongoing funding needs. A motion was passed directing OPSBA to create an immediate mechanism to address inequities and inefficiencies in reopening funding, recognizing the differences of pandemic response in Indigenous communities. In addition, the French-as-a-Second Language teachers' report will be available in March 2021 and will include recommendations on recruitment, retainment, and assessment resources.

Trustee French acknowledged LDSB Trustees who put their names forth for leadership positions for OPSBA. Trustee Hutcheon was reelected to the Policy/Program team and Trustee McGregor to the Education Program team. Trustee Gingrich will serve as alternate.

Student Trustee Report

Student Trustee Quadir reported students are feeling more comfortable with the COVID-19 adjusted schedules and learning, and thanked staff for their efforts on all students' behalf.

Trustee Putnam indicated the first virtual InterSchool Council meeting was held October 13 with great representation from all LDSB secondary schools and education centres. She extended gratitude to Director Burra who attended the virtual meeting briefly.

Trustee Traviss said the Indigenous Student Advisor Council also had its first meeting October 13 to share ideas and he is excited to see where the council will go this year.

Reports for Information

Report on Class Sizes Fall 2020

Superintendent Andre Labrie provided Trustees with a report on class size. Currently there are about 2,000 students, or 10 per cent of the student population, that have opted for remote learning via the LDSB Virtual School.

He reported that currently Limestone’s Kindergarten classe average is 23.8 students. Primary classes are all at 20 or below with 9.1 per cent that are between 20 and 23, and junior/intermediate class average is 24.39. In secondary panel, the district class size average is 17.19 in face-to-face classes and 25.89 in LDSB Virtual School classes.

Trustees were provided with charts outlining in-class versus remote learners at LDSB schools. The data presented is approximately one week old at the time of the report writing (September 23, 2020).

Report on Strategic Action Plan for 2020-2021 school year

Director of Education Burra highlighted the Board's Strategic Action Plan and noted that a few items will appear as yellow (making progress) and red status (needs further attention) when the next report is shared due to constraints of labour action and then the pandemic shutdown during the 2019-2020 school year.

Reports Requiring Decisions

Report on Closing of School or Class

This report outlined the potential need to close a school, or schools, in the event of staff absences due to illness, quarantine, or other absences. Director Burra explained if a school board/schools have exhausted their formal and emergency occasional teachers, closing a school or schools may be necessary for safety reasons. He added staff were bringing this report forward as a proactive measure in the event it is needed, and that this action would only be taken in exigent circumstances as a last resort. Historically, the Board has passed similar motions due to other extreme circumstances.

After further questions and discussion, Trustees passed the following motion:

MOTION: That for school operations and the safety of students in the 2020-2021 school year, if at such time as the safety and security of students becomes compromised as a result of insufficient staffing at a school, or schools, due to staff illness, quarantine, or cumulative other causes, the Director of Education be authorized to close one or more schools, per Section 19(1) of the Education Act.

Report on Learning Model Update

Director Burra, and Superintendent of Business Craig Young provided Trustees with an update regarding the sustainability and potential implications of maintaining two viable models of learning: conventional face-to-face and virtual.

Director Burra restated Program Memorandum (PPM) 164, released in the middle of August 2020, outlines the Ministry of Education’s expectations regarding school boards providing virtual synchronous and asynchronous learning for students/families choosing to not attend school.

He said from an educational perspective, being unable to quickly honour family requests for a change of model is extremely problematic. Ramifications for the system in honouring multiple entry/exit points are also unignorable.

To accommodate the movement of additional elementary students to virtual learning, only two options exist: (a) classroom teachers in schools continue to support students wanting to move to virtual learning in a synchronous and/or asynchronous fashion, while continuing to serve the students in the classroom, or (b) more elementary staffing is provided through additional use of currently allocated reserves. Short of a reorganization, depending on the number of students wanting to pursue virtual learning, Limestone may face a situation where both (a) and (b) above must be utilized at some point during this school year.

Superintendent Young said in order to have the financial ability to potentially execute option (b), LDSB will need to access additional accumulated surplus which requires Board approval. School boards have the ability to access their accumulated surplus up to 2% of operating revenues to address COVID-19 expenses. Staff recommend that the Board of Trustees approve amending the budget to use the Accumulated Surplus of up to 2% of operating revenues to a value of $4.93 million (including the $2.465 million previously approved) to address the increasing COVID-19 expenses in the 2020-2021 budget year. He added that the accumulated surplus should be about $5M for 2019-2020. Staff recommend using about half of that.

After discussion and questions, Trustees moved to vote. Trustee Elliott recused himself from the vote due to conflict of interest. The recommendation carries as presented:

MOTION: That the Limestone District School Board approve amending the budget to use their Accumulated Surplus of up to 2% of operating revenues to a value of $4.93 million (including the $2.465 million previously approved) to address the increasing COVID-19 expenses in the 2020-2021 budget year.

External Reports & Other Communication

Chair Ruttan referenced a letter that expressed concerns of a potential conflict of interest regarding Trustee Elliott's earlier motion to mask students in Kindergarten to Grade 3.

The Chair gave Trustee Elliott the opportunity to respond. He said that he is mindful of the perception of a conflict and Trustee Elliott removed himself from the room to allow Trustees to further discuss. Trustee Elliott also stated that he would accept the motion be revisited if deemed necessary by his colleagues.

Director Burra explained there were two items for discussion/decision. Trustee Elliott has acknowledged the perceived code of conduct and code of conduct breach. Trustees can decide to investigate further and decide upon sanctions, and revisit or rescind the motion. Trustees did not overturn the motion despite consideration debate.

Chair Ruttan concluded that this is a cautionary tale and highlighted the need for transparency. Declaring a conflict at the beginning of each meeting is not the issue necessarily but recusing oneself from motions or votes is what is important. Trustees unanimously agreed no further action is required and the motion stands.

Request for Information: anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism

Student Trustees presented additional items to a previous request for information brought forward in June 2020. The information is outlined below (and on pages 53-55 in the Board Agenda).

Trustees Quadir, Traviss and Putnam each spoke to reasons for the additional request for information and asked for support of a motion relating to inclusion of anti-Black racism in the Board's Strategic Plan. Trustee Brown sponsored this motion.

Trustees applauded the leadership demonstrated by the Student Trustees in bringing forth student voice on this important issue.

Trustees approved the following motion as presented:

MOTION: That the Limestone District School Board Strategic Plan for 2020-2021 incorporate anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism as a key area of focus to demonstrate the work being completed, including key initiatives and performance indicators.

Limestone District School Board

The Board serves more than 19,000 elementary and secondary students in 60 schools and 8 education centres covering a geographic area of 7,719 square kilometres. To get in touch with your trustee, visit Meet Your Trustees.