As you may have already heard, Premier Ford and his team announced earlier this afternoon that students will be returning to school in Ontario this September. I know this decision was not made lightly, and factors such as the mental well-being, physical development and social growth of our children was considered alongside the ongoing health risks of COVID-19.
Ontario has seen less than 100 new cases in each of the past two days. Our communities have done an amazing job adjusting to life with masks, additional hand-washing, physical distancing, and limiting group interactions. While not everyone agrees with each measure being taken, there is no doubt that our efforts are working and we are mitigating the spread of this virus. We must remain vigilant as we know we will be dealing with this pandemic for an unknown amount of time to come.
Premier Ford and Education Minister Lecce announced that there are many additional precautions being taken when students return to school when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting, keeping children in cohorts to minimize unnecessary interactions, spacing out desks, and wearing masks.
I am already receiving questions around the specifics of their plan, and I encourage you to read the material that has been shared in their newsroom press release today, as well as any communication you receive from your local school board in the coming days and weeks. Right now is a time to actively get informed and avoid misinformation or incorrect assumptions.
What we know:
Elementary students through grade 8 will be able to return to school 5-days a week in September with no change to class sizes.
- Students will be with one cohort for the full day and enhanced health and safety protocols will be put in place.
- Lunch and break times will be staggered.
- Students can expect changes in the timing of breaks as they will be staggered to support cohorting.
- Specialized teachers, like French teachers, will still be able to go into classrooms to provide programming for students.
Secondary schools in designated boards, including here in Halton, will open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students.
- Those students will attend class on alternate days or alternate schedules that would represent in-person attendance for at least 50 per cent of instructional days.
- Students in grade 4-12 will be required to wear masks with exceptions for things like eating.
- Mask exemptions will be accommodated for those with valid reasons such as respiratory challenges.
- For students in JK-Grade 3, masks will be optional but encouraged.
- Schools will implement additional hand hygiene, cohorting, and distancing.
- Visitors in schools will be limited and will require pre-registration.
- Masks will be provided to teachers and staff.
- If a student or staff member is experiencing any symptoms of the COVID-19, they will be required to stay home.
- Physical distancing will be implemented as much as possible.
- Parents are allowed to decide whether their child returns to school in-person this September.
- Students will have the option of remote learning, which would be delivered by the school board.
- Any student or staff member who develop COVID-19 symptoms will be immediately separated from others. Staff and parents will then be contacted by their health provider and be informed about COVID-19 testing centres.
- School staff will receive training on processes and procedures.
- Organized sports and clubs can proceed if physical distancing can be maintained and equipment is cleaned regularly.
- $309 million in new funding will help assist the safe reopening of schools.
- The government has allocated $60 million for masks and personal protective equipment, $80 million for funding for additional staff, $25 million on cleaning supplies and $10 million for health and safety training.
- $50 million has been allocated 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.
I know parents will be feeling trepidation about sending their kids back to school this fall, while at the same time looking forward to their children returning to more of a sense of normalcy in their lives, their learning, and their social activity. We are all in this together, and we will continue to plan, evaluate and react to the changing circumstances around us.
The best way to ensure we stay healthy and mitigate the spread of this virus continues to be staying vigilant with health measures like physical distancing, hand washing, masks, staying home when sick, getting tested, and being informed.
As the City of Burlington announced today, we have launched a program to help distribute free masks to those who need them via pick-up at City Hall or local library locations. More information can be found here in this press release.