Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) is now indicating that it is reviewing outdoor programming in general and specifically at the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre.
A letter lamenting the loss of outdoor education at the facility resulted in significant outcry from the community.
TLDSB has been leasing about an acre of land from Yearley, including the house and portables at the property owned by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, according to board spokesperson Carolynne Bull.
“A decision to no longer send our Grade 6 students to the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre has been made due to health and safety issues with overnight accommodations and on-site food preparation.
“TLDSB strongly believes in the importance of connecting with our natural environment and the learning that occurs while doing so. We have many schools with beautiful outdoor spaces for all students to enjoy and many of our educators provide year-round outdoor experiences for our students. TLDSB is currently reviewing a long-term solution for our outdoor programming and will continue to provide these types of opportunities for our students.
“In the 2022-2023 school year, Grade 6 students will have an overnight outdoor education experience and more information about this will be shared by schools with their families in the fall,” wrote Bull on June 13, following questions from Doppler, questions that went unanswered such as what specific health and safety concerns were related to the kitchen and overnight facilities, and whether they could be remedied.
At the school board meeting on June 14, Sharon Stahls, a retired TLDSB principal, was a member of the audience and also asked staff and board members to elaborate on the safety issues at Yearley.
TLDSB Director of Education Wes Hahn said that the food preparation and kitchen areas were of concern, although he did not specify what those concerns were; that the MNDMNRF recently culled some trees on the property; and that the portables “would not pass” but did not say why or if any of the identified issues could be remedied. “We want to make sure that we have a proper facility that’s safe and healthy for students and right now that’s not the case,” said Hahn.
Board chair Bruce Reain added that in conversation with an MNDMNRF official the night before, he was told “if we were to send kids there from our board tomorrow, it’s not safe at this time.” There was no mention of what could be done to make the area safe in time for the next school year.
TLDSB staff also noted that they hope to in future have their own outdoor facility, rather than leasing it from another party. A timeline for that possibility was not provided.
“The use of the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre will be included in the long-term review along with other facilities to provide the very best programming for our students. In the 2022-2023 school year, families will receive more information from their school in the fall about the details of the outdoor education experiences planned for students,” stated a TLDSB press release issued on June 14 following their board meeting.
Also at that meeting, a member of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) appealed to the board to rescind its decision to lay off custodial staff members and education assistants (EAs).
“So far 35 EAs and 28 custodians have received layoff notices in addition to the closure of the Yearley Outdoor Education Centre and Learning Resource Centre – three additional members who worked at these locations have lost their jobs last week. One additional employee who directly supported students has received their layoff notice. In total, this is 77 members who have lost their job or have had their hours cut for September.”
Doppler has reached out to CUPE for more information.
Staff at the board meeting said that although there have been layoffs, the board will be in a hiring position for the next school year for EAs, and should be able to hire more than have been laid off.
You can find TLDSB’s latest release regarding the continuation of outdoor education here.
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