TORONTO: The Ontario government is announcing the safe reopening of schools for in-class instruction beginning this September.
The government has unveiled a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff, and provides school boards with unprecedented resources and flexibility while accommodating regional differences in trends of key public health indicators.
This plan was developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric experts.
Details on the safe restart of the 2020-2021 school year were provided by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen provincewide, with in-class instruction five days a week. Secondary schools with lower risk will reopen with a normal daily schedule, five days a week, while most secondary schools 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. Students from Grade 4-12 and school staff will be required to wear masks.
“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 Premier 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.”
Parents will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery, which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school.
Based on the best medical advice available, 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 targeted, immediate, and evidence-informed investments, including:
• $60 million in the 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 $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; and
•$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.