Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce revealed plans to get students back into classrooms for the coming school year on Thursday. The new model includes smaller cohorts, face coverings for students, and $309 million in additional funding.
The province initially asked schools to prepare three separate plans for the school term beginning on September 8, an in-school model, and at-home model, and a hybrid or adapted model that mixed the two.
“Since that time, the public health data has changed considerably,” the province wrote in a briefing. “School reopening is critical to learning and development for Ontario’s students, and a critical support for families to get back to work and allow for the re-opening of the economy.”
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The province says it is taking a multifaceted approach to keeping students safe, that includes an emphasis on self-screening, adapting school environments, hand hygiene, face coverings, smaller class size, distancing, and limiting visitors.
Elementary school children in K to Grade 8 will attend school five days per week, with one cohort for the full day. This will include recess and lunch.
Remote learning is an option for parents not willing to send their children back to classrooms and students at all levels with a high level of special education needs who are unable to study remotely will be given access to daily attendance and instruction.
“The choice of determining when and if they feel comfortable with their child returning to school during the school and the delivery of live teacher-led synchronous learning when they’re not in school,” Lecce said.
School boards will also be ready to implement a remote learning model should it become required.
All students in Grade 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks while in school, while Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in common spaces.
This seems to fall roughly in line with recently updated recommendations made by SickKids for the safe reopening of schools, which advised against face coverings for this age group, as it may impact social development and younger children have more problems properly wearing a face covering.
Medical masks will be provided for teachers and all other school staff.
In secondary schools, all boards will adopt timetabling methods to keep students in a single group as much as possible, aiming to limit student-to-student contact as much as possible.
Unlike elementary students, secondary schools in designated school boards will open using an adapted model, with class cohorts of around 15 students, on alternate days, or alternate schedules. The province says this will reduce these students’ physical in-class time by 50%.
Secondary schools in “non-designated school boards” will be permitted to open with daily attendance as they typically have smaller numbers.
The $309 million in funding is already earmarked for a series of provisions, and does not include the additional investment of $736 million in public education for the 2020-21 school year, announced by the province in June.
- Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – $60,000,000
- Funding for Additional Staffing – $80,000,000
- cleaning Supplies – $25,000,000
- Health and Safety Training – $10,000,000
- Transportation – Cleaning Supplies and PPE – $40,000,000
- Lab Testing Capacity – $23,700,000
- Additional Public Health Nurses – $50,000,000
- Additional Mental Health Supports – $10,000,000
- Additional Supports for Students with Special Needs – $10,000,000
There will also be an additional $25 million in new funding for mental health supports and technology to support school reopening as part of the 2020-21 Grants for Student Needs (GSN).
Finally, there will be the implementation of a school monitoring system designed to recognize and react to potential infection. The new system will be established through a partnership between the ministries of Health and Education, school boards, and local public health to monitor and respond to reports of COVID-19 symptoms.
According to the education minister, 500 public health nurses will be added to aid in this effort.
Any students or staff members who develop signs of the coronavirus will immediately be
separated from others. Those who test positive will not be allowed to return until cleared by public health.
“This plan will evolve based on the evolution of COVID-19 and the risk to communities across the province,” Lecce said.
The announcement comes after students across Ontario stopped attending class in March, due to the emergence of the coronavirus in Canada.