Families whose kids opted for distance learning and other options instead of their regular school this year can still hold a spot but should make their choice soon.
At the latest board of education meeting on Jan. 26, superintendent Tom Demeo reiterated the point that the board agreed that schools will hold spaces at schools for students to return in 2021/2022. The sentiment among board members was that they did not want to punish students choosing to stay at home or using other educational options for schooling this year because of COVID-19 concerns.
However, district staff are now getting ready to plan, and that means they will need to know who will be going to which schools in the fall. This information affects the preliminary budget process, including staffing levels for each school.
“We are now in that stage where we need to begin planning for next year,” Demeo told school trustees. “Our funding in the school district is driven by student enrolment.”
He said the plan was for schools to start contacting families over the next couple of weeks to get an idea of what their plans are for September.
“This will, of course, allow the district to do some accurate projections in terms of enrolment, which ultimately leads to staffing projections,” Demeo said.
Trustee Janice Caton asked about the time frame for families to make a decision for the coming school year. Demeo responded that the deadline from the Ministry of Education for a first projected enrolment number is mid-February. Secretary-treasurer Brenda Hooker added that the projections can be updated in July.
Caton also asked whether the district had any sense of incoming new student numbers at bricks-and-mortar schools to which Demeo responded that they do not yet know.
“We’re just starting the process,” he said.
Linked to determining numbers of current students returning to school is kindergarten registration. The district wants to get parents to sign up sooner rather than later.
“We’re trying to get as accurate information as possible,” Demeo said. ”It’s imperative that we get that data as quickly as possible.”
Trustee Sarah Jane Howe brought up the matter of space issues in some schools. The district had undergone a catchment review because of pressures at a few sites, which underscores the need for senior staff to know where students want to attend. The district has also frozen cross-boundary transfers for some schools.
One factor making the process a bit easier is that many students had already gone back to their school sites this year. In the fall, School District 71 did see a strong return rate after the spring when generally almost all students had to study remotely due to the pandemic.
“We had a really good response to students coming back to school,” board chair Sheila McDonnell said.
As far as kindergarten registration, district director of instruction Allan Douglas spoke about the enrolment process for students who will be five years old as of the end of 2021. For the coming year, the plan is to have families sign up for kindergarten online for the relevant school. Board members did have questions about making provisions for families that might not have ready access to a computer. Douglas said there would be laptops at schools for parents or guardians to use to register, though district staff will be looking into issues around what hours these are to be available.