July 30, 2020 Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, announced the Ontario government’s plan for the resumption of in-classroom learning for the 2020-21 school year, as well as the continued reopening of child care.
Premier Ford and Minister Lecce were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott; Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe and Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education, Sam Oosterhoff.
Plan for the 2020-21 School Year
This afternoon, Premier Ford and Minister Lecce shared the details of Ontario’s plan for the resumption of in-classroom learning for the 2020-21 school year, which weighs the risk of COVID-19 against the physical, mental, and emotional health effects of prolonged school closures for children.
Elementary students (kindergarten through Grade 8) will return to school full-time as a single cohort. The school week will follow the conventional structure, with five days of learning per week and five hours of learning per day, as well as recess and lunch breaks. In addition, class sizes will remain at the levels in place prior to COVID-19. This model will be followed by all publicly funded elementary schools, province-wide.
For high school students (Grades 9 through 12), return to school will vary across the province. Students in 24 designated school boards, which are in urban and suburban areas with high student populations, will return to school under an adapted model. This adapted model will cohort students into groups of approximately 15, and will require students to split their time between in-classroom and online learning. Cohorts of 15 will attend school in person on alternating schedules, so that in person attendance represents at least 50% of instructional days.
High school students in non-designated school boards, which have lower risk profiles due to smaller enrolment levels, will be permitted to return to conventional, in-classroom learning five days per week. Regardless of whether a school board is designated or not, boards will adopt secondary timetabling methods that place an emphasis on cohorting, in order to limit the number of student-to-student contacts.
Health and Safety Protocols
The following health and safety protocols will be employed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools:
- Daily self screening of all staff and students before attending school.
- Physical and operational adaptation of school environments, including the posting of signage, adjustments to entrance and exit practices, and ensuring the availability of hand sanitizer.
- Training students on appropriate hand hygiene, including the use of hand sanitizer.
- Mandatory (non-medical) masking for students in Grades 4 to 12. Reasonable exceptions will be made for students who are unable to wear a mask due to medical reasons. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.
- Medical masks and other personal protective equipment will be provided by the Ontario government for teachers and other school staff. All school staff will be required to wear masks, except where exempt for medical reasons.
- Cohorting (keeping students together in a small group throughout their school day) in order to limit exposure to multiple teachers or a variety of classmates.
- As much distancing as possible between students, between students and staff, and between staff members.
- Significantly limiting or prohibiting visitors in schools.
- Offering pre-registration.
In addition, parents will continue to have the option to opt their children out of in-person delivery if they do not yet feel comfortable sending their children back to school. Students will continue to have the option of online synchronous teacher-led learning, which will be delivered by the school board.
Students with special education needs, who have difficulties learning remotely, will be permitted to attend school in person daily.
In response to questions about educators that are not yet comfortable returning to work as a result of being in a high-risk population for contracting COVID-19, Minister Lecce said that the government would respect the decision of any teacher who did not feel safe returning to school. He added that in these cases, teaching online is an option.
The government also announced a $309 million investment to support the safe reopening of schools in September. This amount will fund the purchase of masks and personal protective equipment, additional staffing, cleaning supplies, and health and safety training for all teachers including occasional and supply teachers. Also included in this investment is an additional $10 million to support students with special needs and $10 million for additional mental health supports.
The investments announced today will also be used to hire up to 500 public health nurses to support surveillance testing and screening in students.
Continued Gradual Reopening of Child Care
Minister Lecce also announced that licensed child care centres across Ontario will be permitted to open at full capacity starting September 1, 2020, in order to support parents as they increasingly return to work.
EarlyON Child and Family Centres will also be permitted to reopen with in-person programming along with before- and after-school programs for school-aged children. These programs will operate with standard ratios and maximum group size requirements, and will also be subject to the following health and safety protocols:
- Requiring all child care staff to wear masks at all times, effective September 1;
- Ensuring frequent cleaning of child care centres;
- Screening of children and staff before entering a childcare facility;
- Maintaining attendance records for contact tracing purposes;
- Ensuring frequent hand washing and proper hand hygiene for children and staff;
- Establishing clear and rigid case management protocols in the event a staff member or child becomes ill, or tests positive for COVID-19.