Today, the Ontario government announced the plan for the resumption of classes in September for the 2020-21 school year. This plan is another key piece to enabling Ontarians to get back to work and for the economy to be able to recover.
As with moving to Stage 2 of re-opening the economy, the government is taking a regional approach; as the Premier noted, because of Ontario’s size and the variability in the situation on the ground, a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. Ultimately, local school boards will make the decision on what approach to take in their region based on local health information and the unique needs and challenges of their community. The government’s plan reflects the best available medical and scientific advice and recommendations. As in other government decisions in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, health and safety are the top priority and are guiding this cautious approach.
In preparation for September, school boards are being asked to plan for three scenarios that could be implemented in September, depending on the local COVID-19 situation:
1) Normal school routine – Students going to school every day, in classes that reflect standard class size regulations.
2) Modified school day routine – An adaptive delivery model that will allow for cohorting of students and physical distancing. School boards will adopt timetabling that will maintain a limit of 15 students in a cohort in a typical classroom, at one time with a single teacher for as much of the school day as possible.
3) At-home learning – Offering remote education delivered online with minimum standards for synchronous learning (direct contact between student and teacher in real-time) with their teacher on a regular basis.
Schools will likely open in September using the modified school day routine using the cohort model. This model will be re-evaluated after September to determine if a transition to a normal school routine is possible. It should also be noted parents will be given the choice to have their students only do at-home learning if they are uncomfortable with them physically going to classes.
School boards are to submit their plans to the Ministry for review by August 4, 2020. School boards have also been asked to communicate with parents and students in advance of the start of the school year.
The government’s plan is the result of consultations with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, health experts on the COVID-19 Command Table, medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children, education sector partners (teacher and education worker unions), frontline workers, parents and students.
Today’s announcement follows additional education funding and resources that were announced yesterday. Specifically, an increase of $10 million dollars for mental health and $15 million for technology. An additional $4 million in net new funding for cleaning, cleaning protocols and financial support to hire additional custodial staff was also announced today.
One other key element in enabling Ontarians to safely return to work was announced yesterday: a contact tracing app. COVID Alert will be piloted in Ontario starting July 2 and will be rolled out across Canada in the coming weeks. Downloading the app will be voluntary, but the Ford Government is strongly encouraging Ontarians to do so as the app is most effective if a significant percentage of the population is using it.
Developed by Shopify and Blackberry, COVID Alert is a made-in-Ontario innovation that is adhering to high privacy standards. In combination with testing, most analysts have identified contact tracing as imperative to re-opening the economy and to providing citizens with the confidence to re-engage in the regular routines. More details on the app will be forthcoming soon.
What It Means
The Ford Government is putting in place the tools necessary to get Ontario’s economy back up and running. At the same time, sensitive to the fact that Ontarians consistently poll as the most concerned about re-starting too quickly, the government is moving prudently and only on the guidance of health experts. Ontarians’ health and safety remains the government’s foremost consideration – the Premier is raring to re-start the economy, but will err on the side of caution. That being said, by taking a regional approach to re-opening and to schools, the Ford Government is ensuring as much of the province can return to a more normal situation as quickly as possible. With the announcements of the past two days, companies and parents can better plan for this return to (relative) normality and be confident that it will be safe to do so.