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WRDSB reverses decision to keep kids in school on day of solar eclipse

Students with the Waterloo Region District School Board will now be learning from home on April 8, the day of the solar eclipse.

The board had originally decided to keep schools open that day, but announced on Wednesday that students will learn asynchronously after receiving feedback from the school community, staff and families.

“Concerns for student safety have always been at the forefront of the decision making for this day,” the board said in a statement on its website.

The board noted keeping schools open would have given students a once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity.

“The initial decision to have a regular school day was one we felt was possible, given the safety protocols we were prepared to implement,” the statement said.

The board’s director of education jeewan chanika, told CBC News those safety protocols included how students were going to be dismissed in the afternoon, as well as closing windows at schools and providing eclipse viewers for students in junior kindergarten to Grade 3.

“We had put in an extensive amount of work and supports at schools about what was going to happen in the afternoon,” he said.

“That being said, there was no guarantee and that’s why we communicated as much as we did to families that if they felt they needed to keep their kids home or wanted to pick them up early, to just follow their school’s process.”

The board said a shortened school day was considered, but it was not a possible option because of challenges around transportation and making sure crossing guards would be available.

“We also tried to factor in the impact for many of our families who could not take time off work or did not have access to childcare,” the board said.

Waterloo Region District School Board will still have a PD day on Wednesday, April 10 as the date was specifically chosen to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid.

chanika said they could not move the April 10 PD day to the Monday as a committee made up of board staff and other employee groups worked together a year ahead of time to determine when those PD days will fall on.

“One of the commitments that we had was how do we continue to support the diverse student population and at the time, that was the calendar that we made and socialized in the community,” he said.

Union would have rather seen early dismissal

The local branch for the Elementary Teachers Federation Ontario (ETFO) union had urged the board to let students out before dismissal, citing safety concerns with students looking at the eclipse with out proper eye protection.

ETFO Waterloo president Jeff Pelich said he appreciates the board took time to reflect.

“They had to do something. We appreciate that they’ve made the effort,” Pelich told CBC News, adding the union would have rather seen an early dismissal on April 8.

“For our members, having students in the classroom as much as possible is the best solution. Dismissing early would have been the best solution to balance that, but also recognizing the board did what they felt they needed to do,” he said.

Other school boards in the region and Guelph moved their PD days to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday like the Waterloo Catholic District School Board, Upper Grand District School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board.

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