As we near the halfway point of the summer break, we are pleased to be able to share some of our preliminary plans for what student learning may look like in September 2020. Since May, Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) staff have been hard at work, developing plans for the upcoming year, with the human rights and equity of all our students at the core of our work.

Guiding our Planning for September

As we have worked to compile our plans for the upcoming school year, we are guided by direction from the Ministry of Education, Region of Waterloo Public Health, and most importantly, in consultation with families, students and our staff. We will be working closely with the Ministry over the coming weeks to ensure our plans meet with their approval. In addition, we have been working closely with Region of Waterloo Public Health to ensure our plans prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff.

Since we began planning for our return to school in May, guidance and direction has continued to shift, with revised and evolving expectations from the Ministry and public health. To help guide and lead our work, we have created an Ad Hoc Return to School Workplace Steering Committee – a small, nimble group made up of representatives from key areas across the WRDSB. This has not been, and will not be, a straightforward planning process, but rather an ongoing process of emergent design, with an emphasis on the needs of our students and their families.

With this in mind, we launched three separate surveys to our students, families and staff at the end of June, so we could hear, directly, their thoughts on what the next school year should look like. In total, we heard from more than 26,000 people across our system. (Approximately 18,000 family members, 5,100 students and 3,000 staff.) This feedback has helped us to create our guiding principles and set out our three possible scenarios for September 2020.

Our Guiding Principles

  • Human rights and equity at the forefront of decision making
  • Staff and Student Well-being
  • Differentiated supports for our most vulnerable learners and staff
  • Continuity of high-quality learning and operations
  • Adaptable and flexible
  • Clear, transparent, timely, responsive and consistent communication
  • Engagement in data and evidence-informed decision making
  • Financial sustainability

Planning for Three Scenarios

Scenario One: Full Return with Enhanced Health and Safety

  • All students return to school five days per week in the conventional manner
  • Return to school is modified by enhanced health and safety protocols as directed by public health

Scenario Two: Adaptive/Hybrid Model

  • Cohorting of students
  • Combination of face-to-face and distance learning
  • Maximizing student instructional time
  • Offers a seamless transition to conventional model delivery

Scenario Three: Full Distance Learning

  • Should schools be closed due to COVID-19, school boards would continue to deliver instruction through distance learning
  • All educators plan with a blended learning model in mind
  • All teachers to establish virtual learning environments via Google Classroom or D2L/VLE
  • Greater expectations regarding the use of synchronous learning with consideration for equity, safety and privacy

Next Steps

In the coming weeks, we will be working directly with the Ministry of Education to review and refine our preliminary plans. By August 4, we expect to hear an announcement from the Ministry that will provide further clarity regarding the return to school scenario that will be chosen. Once we receive this information, we will be working quickly to confirm any details and will share them with you as soon as possible.

As we await further clarity, we’d like to address a number of areas that we know are of concern to many of our families.

Student and Staff Well-being

  • An emphasis on student and staff well-being and a trauma-informed approach to re-entry:
    • establishing connection
    • predictability and flexibility
    • co-regulation
  • Focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL) skills:
    • identifying and managing emotions, coping with stress, building relationships, positive motivation, deepening sense of self, thinking critically and creatively
  • Developing a comprehensive COVID-19 Employee Health & Safety, and Employee Wellness Handbook for Management and Staff

Health and Safety

  • Developing Health and Safety Protocols that address:
    • Handwashing and respiratory hygiene
    • Physical distancing:
      • student movement, arrival and departure
    • Use of masks
    • Daily screening and responding to symptomatic students at school
  • Protocols will be shared with families and students in accessible formats

Facilities and Cleaning

  • Identifying new cleaning standards to support school reopening and Extended Day operations
  • Building retrofits will support social distancing through additional signage, wayfinding and other measures
  • Developing a staff model to ensure heightened cleaning standards and staff absenteeism will not impact the safe operations of schools


  • School reopening will need to work within the existing fleet of buses
  • Students will be limited to 24 per large school bus
  • Cleaning and Personal Protective Equipment costs will be notable as students will be required to wear masks while riding the bus
    • Additional cleaning protocols will be employed between runs and between cohorts
  • Bus Drivers tend to be within higher-risk groups. We are working to ensure drivers are able to return and stay at work
  • STSWR is building student cohorts and mapping out routes for both an adaptive and conventional model of school reopening

In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing more details with you regarding what our return to school and work will look like, as we learn more from the Ministry of Education. Please stay tuned to our website and social media accounts for future updates.

More information about the preliminary models, as well as a link to the video of the full Monday, July 20 Board Meeting is coming soon to our website.