Ontario announced that schools will reopen in September following strict health and safety guidelines.
On Friday, Premier Doug Ford said that when students return to school in the fall there will be guidelines for school boards on how best to proceed safely.
“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids in this province. Parents expect us to take every precaution to keep their children safe when they go back to school in September – and that’s exactly what we’re delivering today,” said Ford.
“This plan takes the best medical advice available from our public health experts to ensure every school board and every school is ready to ensure students continue learning in the safest way possible.”
School boards will be asked to plan for three scenarios to be implemented in September, depending on the public health situation at the time.
They must prepare for a possible normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols, meaning that students would go to school every day, with a standard student class size.
There is also the modified school day routine. This approach is based on public health advice, which is an adapted delivery model designed to allow for physical distancing and cohorts of students.
Under this model, school boards are asked to maintain a limit of 15 students in a typical classroom at one time and adopt timetabling that would allow for students to remain in contact only with their classmates and a single teacher for as much of the school day as possible.
This model would require alternate day or alternate week delivery to a segment of the class at one time.
And, the at-home learning model which could be implemented — should the school closure be extended, or some parents choose not to send their child back to school — school boards need to be prepared to offer remote education.
Remote education should be delivered online “to the greatest extent possible,” including the establishment of minimum expectations for students to have direct contact with their teacher at the same time on a regular basis, also known as “synchronous learning” — which can be used as part of whole-class instruction, in smaller groups of students, and/or in a one-on-one context.
The government is instructing school boards to be prepared with a plan, should it be required, that includes an adapted delivery model, which could include alternate day or alternate week attendance, staggered bell times and recess, and different transportation arrangements, among a variety of other considerations to ensure the safety of students and staff.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the goal is to move towards a convention model, but for now they are using “safety” as their guiding principle.
He added that there are specific protocols for deep cleaning in schools and buses, as well as increasing hygiene amongst students and staff.
Moreover, the government announced $4 million in net new funding for cleaning, cleaning protocols, and financial support to hire additional custodial staff in September to ensure schools are safe.
Currently, there is be “no blanket” solution for all Ontario schools, as some regions like Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex are not yet in Stage 2 of reopening yet, and that consultation must be done with each local school board and public health unit on how to reopen.
The province says that school boards have been asked to prepare their own safety plans for the upcoming school year and submit them to the ministry by August 4.
The ministry will be providing all boards with an opportunity to share their draft plans and seek feedback from a formalized table of medical experts that the ministry will be convening
The safety plan was done in consultation with Sick Kids, Chief Medical Officer of Health and Command Table.
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The Education Minister’s announcement comes a day after the Hospital for Sick Kids released their safety recommendations for schools reopening.
The recommendations said that schools should limit larger gatherings, allow for enhanced cleaning and hand hygiene, prevent children from sharing food and drinks, and to ensure classrooms are ventilated with open windows when possible.
However, face masks are not recommended to wear, as they are deemed “impractical” for a child to wear for the duration of the school day.
“Not opening schools in September would continue to have a negative impact on the mental, behavioural and developmental health of children. We hope these recommendations help provide a framework to keep everyone safe when school doors reopen,” Dr. Ronald Cohn, president and CEO of SickKids said in a statement.
Ontario schools have been suspended since mid-March, with children learning online with the Learn at Home program, which offers curriculums for Grade K to 12 and lessons for basics like reading, writing, math, and science skills.