Elementary students in Ontario will be heading back to school full time come September, the provincial government revealed today, while most high school students will split their time between the classroom and online learning.
Many of the two million or so students who attend-publicly funded schools in Ontario will need to adjust to a new reality, as COVID-19 safety measures will make for a new kind of learning experience.
“When it comes to keeping our kids safe, I won’t take any unnecessary risks,” said Premier Doug Ford at his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday afternoon.
Elementary level students will remain a single cohort, five days per week, including for recess and lunch. Further, school boards will be required to provide the full curriculum. Class sizes will remain at the mandated maximum levels in place before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Secondary students in “designated boards” — mainly in urban and suburban areas with relatively high student populations — will attend school on alternating days, in cohorts of about 15.
High schools in non-designated boards, which typically have smaller enrolment, will be able to offer full-time learning, the province says.
Students in Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear a non-medical mask or cloth face covering while at school. Younger children will be encouraged, but not required, to do so.
Medical masks will be provided for teachers and other staff.
Meanwhile, parents will be able to opt their children out of in-person classes, if they wish. Children with special education needs who struggle with remote learning will be allowed to attend school daily for instruction.
The province says other measures that will be in place to ensure the safety of students include:
- “Self-screening” by families and teachers.
- Emphasis on hand hygiene.
- Distancing when possible.
- Limiting visitors in schools.
- Directional signage to limit the cross-flow of students in hallways and on playgrounds.
When the academic year begins, schools can offer clubs and organized sports if social distancing is possible and spaces are cleaned and disinfected between each use, the Ministry of Education says.
The ministries of education and health plan to establish a new “school health monitoring system” that will be used to track any possible cases of COVID-19 in facilities.
Students and staff who develop any COVID-19 symptoms will be “immediately separated.” Anyone who tests positive won’t be able to return to school until they are cleared by local public health officials, and those who test negative will need to be symptom-free for 24 hours before going back.
The provincial government says it will invest a total of $309 million into the plan, including:
- $60 million for masks and PPE.
- $80 million for staffing.
- $25 million for cleaning supplies.
- $10 million for health and safety training.
- $40 million for cleaning supplies and PPE for the school transportation system.
- $23.7 million for lab testing capacity.
- $50 million for additional public health nurses.
- $10 million for mental health supports.
- $10 million for students with special needs.
“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,” the government wrote in a briefing document for the media.
Yesterday, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children released its own newly revised guidelines for reopening schools. The recommendations include staggered lunch times, no large assemblies, and mandatory masks for older students.