Publicly Funded Ontario Schools Set to Open in September
The premier, Doug Ford, and Stephen Lecce the Ontario Minister of Education has outlined the provincial government’s plan for safely reopening publicly funded elementary, middle, and high schools for the 2020-2021 academic year. This plan, created with the consultation of experts at Sick Kid’s Hospital, Dr. David Williams, and Dr. Barbara Jaffe in conjunction with the input of education union members, school boards, and parents, has been designed to construct a re-opening plan that will help schools and classrooms “look and feel as much as it used to.”
The premier and Ministry of Education have both decided that students will be returning to school in the fall unless other developments occur. This lockdown has left two million students out of the classroom in Ontario at 4,800 publicly-funded schools since March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province.
However, on September 8th, 2020 – parents that are willing to send their children back to school can expect to drop off their children at school – however, the landscape will be drastically different.
To make this all happen, the premier has dedicated a total of 309 million to school boards’ budgets to aid in this transition. This money will be allocated as followed: $60 million for masks and personal protective equipment, $80 million for funding for additional staff, $25 million on cleaning supplies and $10 million for health and safety training. The ministry is expected to hire up to 500 new public health nurses and 900 custodians with the former being focused on being deployed to secondary schools where the risk of contraction is higher and the need for enhancing contact tracing more imperative.
All teachers will be provided with personal protective equipment and schools will be outfitted with the proper sanitary supplies needed to keep schools germ-free.
Students will go back to school for five days a week and five hours a day – they will also still be able to enjoy their recesses and lunch breaks.
Non-medical masks will be mandatory for students in Grades 4 to 8 but not for students in kindergarten to grade 3 as medical studies suggest that the risk of contractions amongst infants and young children is significantly less than the upper years.
Students will be separated into cohorts to minimize contact amongst other students and to decrease travelling from one classroom to another. Enhanced health and safety protocols will be in place – including a training program that all staff members will partake in.
Teachers will provide the full range of the elementary curriculum, the ministry said. But students can expect to see their recesses, lunches, and bathroom staggered to support social distancing and cohorting.
Specialized teachers, like French teachers, will still be able to go into classrooms to provide programming for students.
Due to the increased risk of contraction in teenagers and young adults, class sizes will be capped at 15 students and they will be cohorted. However, the government was not entirely clear on what this will look like for students in grades 11 and 12 who will be taking varying electives.
Those students will attend class on alternate days or alternate schedules that would represent in-person attendance for at least 50 percent of instructional days with the other 50 percent coming from synchronous online instruction.
This decision affects 24 school boards including the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board, York Region School Board, York Catholic District School Board, the Peel and Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Boards.
School boards have been asked to implement timetabling methods that emphasize cohorting students, staggering bell times, and lunch breaks to help keep the social distancing. The government said they will continue to monitor public health trends and hopefully remove more school boards from the designated list.
Parents will have the option to send their children to school or not. Teachers will be expected to accommodate by providing live classes online. All teachers and staff members will be provided with PPE. Students and staff will have to follow more stringent hand washing and hygiene measures and guests will be limited as there will be a pre-registration system in place before any visits.
Schools will also rely on parents to self-screen students each day. If a student or staff member is experiencing any symptoms of the COVID-19, they will be required to stay home. Staff and students who do get COVID-19 will have to also get tested. Regular testing of staff will not occur.
People who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school until they have quarantined for a minimum of 14 days and been cleared by Public Health officials. Anyone who tests negative can return to school once they are symptom-free for 24 hours.
Officials said they will try to enforce physical distancing as much as possible but did not state any specific requirements.
Special education students will be able to go to school for day instruction but only if they are unable to learn remotely.
School staff will receive training on processes and procedures.
Organized sports and clubs have been given the green light to proceed if physical distancing can be maintained and equipment is cleaned regularly.
What if my Child Takes the School Bus?
Students will be assigned seating on school buses and social distancing will be enforced. Students will have to sit with family members or other students from their cohort.
School bus drivers will be provided with personal protective equipment and the seat behind the driver will be left open.
Windows on the school buses should be left open when possible to provide extra circulation.
The buses will also be cleaned regularly, the government said.