Today, the Ontario government released the long promised the plan for reopening schools. The government developed this plan in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric health experts. According to the government, the plan prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff and is backed by the latest science and evidence. It provides school boards with flexibility to accommodate regional differences in public health indicators while providing the resources necessary to ensure school can reopen safely. The full plan can be found here.
All elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen province wide, with in-class instruction five days a week. All students will be cohorted in their class and school boards will be encouraged to adopt timetabling methods to limit student-to-student contacts at recess and lunch. Specialized teachers, like French teachers will be able to enter into classrooms to provide the full range of curriculum to students. Students from Grade 4-8 and staff will be required to wear a cloth mask indoors on school property with reasonable exceptions. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to wear masks in indoor spaces. The government recognizes that it is important to balance the risks of COVID-19 with developmental needs, mental health needs and the impact of isolation on these children.
Secondary schools will reopen with a combination of an adapted model and conventional delivery depending on school board. All students and staff in secondary schools will be required to wear masks. School boards are encouraged to adopt secondary timetabling methods that emphasize cohorting and limit the number of student-to-student contacts. Schools are encouraged to adopt quadmester delivery or other innovative models to keep students in a maximum of two in-person class cohorts. School boards designated by the province as having a heightened risk will open in an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students and on alternating schedules with at least 50% of in-class instructional days. On the days when students are not in-class they will be assigned curriculum-linked independent work and may have synchronous learning with their teacher.
These 24 school boards have been given designated status for reopening in September. Their status will be reviewed regularly, and the boards will be given notice when it is determined it is safe for them to move to conventional delivery.
Schools will use a range of protection strategies to maintain health and safety of students and staff. This includes staff and students conducting self-screening every day before attending school; hand hygiene; masks; cohorting and physical distancing.
Additional public health protocols and resources will be put in place in schools to keep students and staff safe. Additional funding of $309 million is being provided by the government to implement these protocols which include:
This funding is in addition to that announced previously which provided $10 million dedicated to mental health staff, resources and programs; $15 million in technology funding; and $4 million for cleaning, cleaning protocols and financial support to hire additional custodial staff.
The government and school boards will continuously monitor and re-evaluate new evidence and the changing public health information. The plan will evolve if and when necessary. The three models the school boards have been planning for will allow the schools to nimbly respond to changing situations.
The government re-iterated that parents will continue to have the option to opt their children out of in-person schooling and enroll them in remote learning, giving parents the final determination on safety.
Today’s plan provides the certainty many parents were hoping to receive when the government released the provincial guidance plan to school boards. The public health knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 based on evidence have increased since that time. In addition, public health trends now show a flattened curve which allow the government to provide this more concrete plan.
Today, the Ontario government announced its plan to allow child care centres to return to full capacity starting September 1, 2020. EarlyON child and Family Centres will also be permitted to re-open. Also, before- and after-school programs will be permitted to operate with standard capacity limits. The decision to allow these reopenings was made in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and the COVID-19 Command Table. These programs will all need to operate with the enhanced health and safety procedures that were put in place as part of the re-opening plan to protect children, staff and families. In addition, all child care staff will be required to wear masks at all times, starting September 1. Further information will be available soon. The government recognizes that these programs are necessary for parents to be able to return to work.