TORONTO – Ontario’s education minister announced his ministry’s plan for reopening schools for the 2020-21 school year.
On June 19th, the province asked school boards to prepare three plans for schools to reopen this fall including full-time, in-class learning; full-time, at-home learning; and a hybrid delivery model with some in-class learning mixed with at-home learning.
“Keeping kids healthy and safe is my top priority,” premier Doug Ford told journalists Thursday. “We are going to get our kids back to school in a way that is as close to five-day-a-week learning as it has been.”
“Our plan was developed by the best medical leaders in this country,” said education minister Stephen Lecce.
Under the announced plan, Kindergarten to Grade 8 students will attend school five-days-per-week and remain in one cohort or group for the entire day. This includes lunch and recess breaks. Enhanced health and safety protocols will be in place.
These students will remain with their class and home room teacher. There will be limited contact with other subject teachers like French, art, or physical education.
Grades 9 to 12 students in some boards will attend school five-days-per-week as well, with timetables set to allow for the class groupings to remain the same throughout the day.
Policy documents from the province recommend that secondary student contact should be limited to approximately 100 contacts. Boards are encouraged to keep in-person groupings to two classes within a grade and modify timetables and course delivery to do so by adopting a quadmester system. This means secondary school students will take two courses instead of four per day under the semester system.
These rules will apply to students in Upper Canada District School Board and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario schools.
Secondary school students in larger school boards like Ottawa, Toronto, London, and Hamilton, will attend classes 50 per cent of the time in school, with class sizes of no more than 15 students. The French-Catholic and French-Public school boards covering Eastern Ontario, including in Cornwall and Kemptville, fall under the adapted model.
Students with special needs will be able to attend school full-time regardless of which model is used. Parents can also opt for at-home learning with materials provided by school boards and the ministry if they feel uncomfortable or are unable to attend in-school learning.
All Grade 4 to 12 students, regardless of which delivery model is used, will be required to wear non-medical face masks while inside schools. Kindergarten to Grade 3 students will not be required, but masks are to be encouraged.
School staff will be required to wear face masks while inside school buildings.
Reasonable exceptions to wearing masks will be made for medical reasons.
School spaces will be adapted to allow for more physical distancing, increased hand-hygiene, and visits to the school will be limited.
Under the plan students or staff who develop COVID-19 symptoms will be immediately separated from others in the school. Staff and parents will be directed to consult their health care provider to be tested for COVID-19.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 cannot return to school until they have been approved by public health officials. People who receive a negative COVID-19 can return to school once they are symptom-free for 24-hours.
Any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a school will be immediately reported to the local health unit.
To get students to and from school, walking distances for students living close to a school are “encouraged” to be increased. Students from the same family will be grouped together on the bus. The ministry advises that additional buses may be required to allow for physical distancing.
Kindergarten to Grade 3 students will not have to wear face masks on the bus, Grades 4-12 students will. Students will be assigned seats and buses will be cleaned at least twice per day. Separate transportation will be assigned for immuno-compromised students through special needs transportation. Additional PPE including face shields will be available for bus drivers, and hand sanitizer for all students.
Many school boards, including the UCDSB, identified that full-time, in-class learning was the only viable option. The UCDSB said that enhanced physical distancing, staffing, and sanitation requirements were going to cost the board an additional $1 million per month to put into place.
Under the province’s plan, an additional $309 million in funding is being allocated to pay for Personal Protective Equipment like masks ($60 million), additional staffing ($80 million), and transportation – cleaning supplies and PPE ($40 million).
Health and wellness initiatives through this fund include $50 million for additional public health nurses, $23.7 million for increased lab testing capacity, and $10 million each for mental health supports and support for students with special needs.
The $309 million in funding is a further increase of $25 million in funding for mental health supports and technology needs for reopening that was already included with the ministry’s Grants for Student Needs funding.