With schools preparing to welcome back students and return to in-class learning for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March, parents across the country have been concerned about the level of infection control precautions school boards will have in place.
Although Education is not a federal responsibility, as it falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he wanted to calm the fears of parents by ensuring that the provinces and territories have additional resources to make schools safe.
“While every year is different, this September will be unlike any you’ve had to deal with before. Parents and staff are anxious about what the school year will hold. As a dad, and a former teacher, I get that,” said the Prime Minister during a press conference on Wednesday.
“We’ve seen the provinces put forward plans for that reopening and they are confident that they are doing what is necessary, but parents were still concerned. So, we said, ‘Let’s give the provinces even more resources to be able to do everything that is necessary to keep our kids safe.”’
Therefore, during the press conference from a school in Toronto, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the federal government is sending “up to” $2 billion in funding to the provinces and territories through the “Safe Return to Class” fund.
The new funding to the provinces and territories will be used to cover the extra costs of ensuring that students will be safe when the fall school year begins said Prime Minister Trudeau.
These costs can include money spent to help adapt learning spaces, improve air ventilation, increase hand sanitation and hygiene and buy extra personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies.
Additionally, Prime Minister Trudeau also announced an extra $112 million for First Nations communities to help ensure a safe return to school on reserves.
The new funding announced today is an additional fund to the previously announced $19 billion “safe restart” plan form the federal government which is focused on helping the provinces and territories reopen their societies safely.
According to the federal government, the $2 billion in funding will be sent to the provinces and territories through the “Safe Return to Class Fund” in two installments: the first portion will be available this fall, and the second will be available in “early 2021”.
The funding will be distributed based upon the number of students between the ages of four and 18 in each region and the decision to split the funding up is to “ensure that provinces and territories have support for the whole year” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s office.
A breakdown of the funding allocation based on the student population is as follows:
- Alberta: $262.8 million
- British Columbia: $242.4 million
- Manitoba: $85.4 million
- New Brunswick: $39.8 million
- Newfoundland and Labrador: $26.2 million
- Northwest Territories: $4.9 million
- Nova Scotia: $47.9 million
- Nunavut: $5.8 million
- Ontario: $763.3 million
- Prince Edward Island: $10.4 million
- Quebec: $432.2 million
- Saskatchewan: $74.9 million
- Yukon: $4.2 million
The provinces and territories will have the flexibility to spend the money as they see fit to bolster their efforts to ensure schools can reopen this fall as safely as possible, said the Prime Minister as he emphasized that the federal government has no intention to interfere with the provincial areas of jurisdiction.
“We had no intention of interfering in provincial areas of jurisdiction, that’s why this money coming in to be able to top up the plans that the premiers have set forward is going to be something that will give people confidence, not just in the safety of their kids, but in their ability to get back to work and our economy to get going once again,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
With most students have been learning from home since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down schools and businesses in mid-March, Prime Minister Trudeau said returning kids to school safely is critical to restarting the economy since it allows parents to return to work without stressing about the health of their children.
As a parent and a former teacher himself, Prime Minister Trudeau said he knows first-hand the importance of school for kids’ social development and mental well-being.
“Our children must be safe in the classroom. That’s non-negotiable,” said the Prime Minister. “No parent should be losing sleep because they have to go back to work, but aren’t confident schools are properly prepared.”
Ontario Government Releases COVID-19 Management Plan for Schools this Fall
Following the announcement from the Prime Minister, the government has released the Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools document as part of Ontario’s plan for students to safely return to the classroom in September.
The guidance document will help school boards and school authorities consistently implement prevention measures, maintain accurate records of staff, students and visitors, work with their local public health units, and take appropriate action when staff, students, or visitors become ill during the school day.
“Ontario’s COVID-19 management plan for schools was developed by medical leaders, with one aim: to maximize safety and minimize the risk to your children,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
“We have the resources in place ― from nursing to testing and enhanced screening and cleaning ― to help prevent the spread, coupled with a comprehensive plan to respond to any challenge immediately and decisively, under the leadership of Dr. Huyer.”
Key elements of the guidance document explain:
- The role of school boards and schools: keeping communities informed by creating a COVID-19 advisory section on both the board and school’s websites;
- The role of local public health units: leading case and contact tracing activities, declaring outbreaks and directing closure of classrooms or schools where necessary;
- The critical role of parents: screening their children every day before they go to school and keeping them home if they are ill;
- Appropriate steps to take when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, including notifying the school community while respecting individual privacy; and
- Protocols to trigger various levels of public health responses or infection control measures. One case will trigger a public health response, two or more linked cases will trigger the declaration of an outbreak.
The guide was said to be developed in consultation with public health experts, including Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and aims to help schools identify and isolate COVID-19 cases, reduce the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and prevent and minimize outbreaks.
“Just as many schools have fire safety and emergency response plans, we have been working hand in hand with the medical experts to develop a plan that will allow schools to quickly and effectively find, isolate and contain a COVID-19 case or outbreak,” said Premier Doug Ford.
“With medical experts helping to develop and support our plan, parents, teachers and educators can be confident every measure has been taken to put the health and safety of students and staff first.”
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