On Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Ontario’s plans to reopen schools across the province this coming September, six weeks before the start of the new school year.
“We were the first province to make the difficult, but necessary, decision to close schools back in March,” said Premier Ford during the press conference today.
“This decision put a strain on families but now looking back, I know we made the right choice.”
Since the beginning of March, when news of the COVID-19 pandemic just began, over two million students have been sent home and have been out of the classroom across the 4,800 publicly-funded schools across Ontario.
From a brief overview of the announcements made today, elementary school students and many high school students will be returning to the classroom full-time this Fall.
Here is what we know so far about the Ontario Government’s plan for school reopening this September.
According to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, elementary school children in kindergarten through to Grade 8 will be returning to school five days per week across Ontario for a full day.
In other words, these students will be returning to school full-time similar to how it was before the pandemic, which includes recesses and lunch breaks with no further changes to class sizes.
Regarding the usage of non-medical masks, students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in common spaces in the school building.
This rule differs for older students as it will be mandatory for students in Grade 4 to Grade 12 to wear non-medical masks or cloth masks during school times.
When returning to school in the fall time, Students will be placed together in one cohort for the full day as teachers will be providing the full range of the elementary curriculum.
Additionally, the Education Minister said that students and parents can expect to see changes in the timings of recesses, lunches, and bathroom breaks, as they will be staggered to support cohorting.
Specialized teachers, such as French teachers, will still be able to go into classrooms and provide programming for students as usual.
Although all elementary school students will be returning to school full-time, only some secondary school students will be returning to school full-time this fall, as other students will be returning to school with an “adapted” model for secondary school reopening.
The adapted model will put students in groups of 15 students per cohort and these students will attend class on alternate days or alternate schedules throughout the school week.
The alternating schedules would represent an in-person attendance for at least 50 percent of instructional days.
Currently, 24 school boards are included in the list of secondary schools that will be reopening with the adapted model.
These school boards include:
- Toronto Catholic,
- Dufferin-Peel Catholic,
- York Catholic,
- Durham Catholic,
- Halton Catholic,
- Waterloo Catholic,
- Thames Valley,
- London District Catholic,
- Ottawa Catholic,
- Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic,
- Niagara Catholic,
- Greater Essex Country,
- Windsor-Essex Catholic,
- Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est and
- Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario.
The remaining school boards that are not part of the list of school boards above will be allowed to reopen for classes five days per week with full attendance.
According to the Ontario government, school boards outside of the 24 school boards mentioned above “typically have small enrollment” thus the government allowed the full-time reopening of schools in September
All school boards however will be adopting a secondary timetabling method that emphasizes cohorting of students as much as possible to limit the number of student-to-student contacts.
As Premier Ford mentioned, his government and the Education Minister will continue to monitor public health trends and when possible remove certain school boards from the list of schools reopened as needed.
Safety Measures for Students, Teachers, and Parents When Schools Reopen
A major concern that parents and teachers have about the reopening of schools includes the public health safety measures that need to be in place when schools reopen this fall.
The Ontario government announced today that there will be multiple strategies implemented to ensure that schools continue to be “healthy and safe environments” for both students and staff.
As previously mentioned, non-medical masks and face coverings will be mandatory for students from Grade 4 to Grade 12, while students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged but not required to wear masks in common areas of the school.
On the other hand, teachers and all other school staff will be provided with medical masks to wear while teaching and while on school property.
Also, the Ontario government mentioned that schools will be implementing additional hand hygiene, cohorting, and physical distancing measures that includes limiting visitors in schools and the requirement of pre-registration for guests.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that schools will also rely on parents to self-screen their children each day as they return to school.
If a student or staff member is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, they will be required to stay home.
While officials have said that they will try to enforce physical distancing as much as possible, they did not mention any specific requirements.
Parents will also be given the choice to decide whether their child returns to school in-person this fall, however.
Students who opt-out of in-person schooling will have the option of remove learning, which would be delivered by the school board.
Additionally, students with a high level of special education needs, who are unable to study remotely, will be permitted to daily attendance and instructions.
According to the Ontario Government, school boards will be ready to implement adapted and remote learning models if they are required this coming fall.
What happens if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19?
Students or staff members who develop COVID-19 systems will be immediately separated from others.
Staff and parents will then be contacted by their health providers and be informed about COVID-19 testing centres.
Should the individual test positive for COVID-19, they will not be allowed to return to school until they have been permitted to by a public health officer.
Anyone who tests negative for the virus can return to school once they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
The Ontario Government noted that schools will be required to immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.
School staff will receive training on the processes and procedures to properly handle scenarios in an event an individual reports feeling symptoms of the virus.
New Funding for Schools Announced by the Ontario Government
In addition to the plans for reopening schools in September, the Ontario government also announced $309 million in new funding to help support the safe reopening of schools this fall.
According to Premier Ford, the government has allocated $60 million for the purchases of masks and personal protective equipment for staff and students, $80 million in funding for additional staff hiring, $25 million for purchases of cleaning supplies, and $10 million in funding for health and safety training.
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