Ontario’s Ministry of Education Stephen Lecce announced a full return-to- school model in September (five day a week) for all elementary and secondary students in the Limestone District School Board and the Algonquin and Lakeshore District Catholic School Board.
During a press conference held at Whitby’s Father Leo J. Austin Catholic School on Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford and Lecce outlined some of the guidelines for their back-to-school plan. Among those guidelines are students in Grades 4 to 12 must wear masks while in school and parents will be given a self screening checklist to go over before they send their kids to school. Schools are also required to create designated students cohorts by grouping students from the same grade level together as much as possible. That includes creating specific timetables and common areas to limit contact from outside a cohort.
Schools in the Kingston Frontenac and Lennox and Addington area were deemed as low risk, meaning they will be open to students five days a week. Secondary schools with lower risk will re-open with a normal daily schedule, five days a week, while secondary schools in higher populated areas deemed to be at higher risk will start the school year in an adapted model of part-time attendance with class cohorts of up to 15 students alternating between attending in-person and online.
“It’s been hard on families to balance work and child care, while kids have been separated from friends and other kids their own age. We want to get our kids back to school, but it has to be done safely,” said Ford. “That’s why we’ve worked with our public health experts, Ontario Health and the medical experts at SickKids to develop a plan that ensures students can return to the classroom five days a week in a way that protects the health and safety of our children, teachers, and school staff.”
Incoming Limestone District School Board director of educator Krishna Burra posted a letter on the board’s website in response to the government’s announcement.
“We know that students, families and staff are eager to learn more specific details about what the new school year will look like in our schools,” wrote Burra. “With this latest announcement, Limestone can finalize our plans for September in consultation with public health, including provisions for health and safety requirements, increased cleaning, personal protective equipment (including the use of masks for staff, and students in Grades 4 to 12), screening protocols, adjustment to school routines, mental health and special education supports, and transportation among others. We are pleased to see the Ministry provide some additional funding to help support a safe return for students and staff.”
Citing medical advice, the province is implementing additional public health protocols to keep students and staff safe when they return to school in September. To support the implementation of these protocols, the government is providing over $300 million in funding, broken down as follows:
- $60 million in procurement of medical and cloth masks for students and staff, with direction to boards to ensure that students who cannot afford a mask are provided one
- $30 million for teacher staffing to support supervision, keeping classes small and other safety related measures
- $50 million to hire up to 500 additional school-focused nurses in public health units to provide rapid-response support to schools and boards in facilitating public health and preventative measures, including screening, testing, tracing and mitigation strategies
- Over $23 million to provide testing capacity to help keep schools safe
- $75 million in funding to hire over 900 additional custodians and purchase cleaning supplies for schools
- $40 million to clean school buses, to ensure that students are in a thoroughly cleaned transportation environment
- $10 million for health and safety training for occasional teachers, who have historically not been covered by professional development that is offered to permanent teachers
- $10 million to support special needs students in the classroom
- $10 million to support student mental health.
- This funding is in addition to a $25 million investment in mental health and technology, which will see an additional $10 million dedicated to mental health staff, resources, and programs, as well as $15 million in technology funding to support the procurement of over 35,000 devices for Ontario’s students to support their synchronous learning in-school and beyond.
“As always, our plans are based on the advice, guidance and directives of provincial and local public health officials, and in consultation with community, education, and labour partners,” added Burra. “It is important to note that a safe school reopening is contingent on limiting community spread of COVID-19. If circumstances change, and we experience an increase in regional cases across KFL&A, we may need to adjust our model. We encourage everyone to follow public health guidelines and remain vigilant in helping to keep our communities safe.”
Hastings-Lennox and Addington MPP Daryl Kramp released a statement following the announcement, saying he welcomed the news.
“The Government has consulted broadly with paediatric experts, along with health and education groups and taken direction from the COVID-19 command table and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health on how to proceed,” said Kramp. “The government has done its homework — and now it’s time for students to return to class, safely.”
The Ontario government also announced parents will continue to have the option to enrol their children in remote delivery, giving them the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school.