On March 31, 2020 Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that Ontario schools and child care centres will remain closed to protect the health and safety of students and staff. Premier Ford and Minister Lecce were joined by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano.
Minister Romano also provided updates on how the government is supporting post-secondary students, recent graduates, and the post-secondary sector more broadly.
Yesterday Ontario extended its Declaration of Emergency and associated emergency measures until April 13, 2020.
Extension of School and Child Care Closures – Premier Doug Ford and Minister Stephen Lecce
Today Premier Ford announced the extension of Ontario school closures. As a result of today’s announcement, publicly funded schools will remain closed until at least May 1 for educators and until May 4 for students. According to the provincial Declaration of Emergency, independent schools and child care centres will remain closed until April 13, which only allows closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time. Premier Ford and Minister Lecce were clear that they would not hesitate to extend school closures, if necessary.
Minister Lecce announced that Ontario is launching the second phase of “Learn at Home” to ensure continuity of learning during the extended school closure. The second phase of Learn at Home will re-establish teacher-led learning and enhance education supports for students, teachers and parents.
The intent of the new phase of Learn at Home is to enable students to continue to be engaged in the curriculum, learn new material and accumulate credits for their current grade.
Features of Learn at Home phase two include:
- Reconnecting students with teachers and other school staff, including mental health workers;
- Re-establishing teacher-led learning by grade groupings;
- Leveraging digital resources and identifying alternative forms of teacher-student connectivity (e.g. phone, mail);
- Developing a program of training to support educators in virtual learning delivery;
- Requiring final report cards for all students;
- Prioritizing and supporting students on track to graduate, and;
- Distributing laptops and/or devices from schools as needed.
For elementary learning, students between Kindergarten and Grade 6 will be required to complete five hours of work per week, while students in Grades 7 and 8 will be expected to complete 10 hours of work per week. Students in earlier grades will focus on literacy and math, while higher grade levels will expand this scope to also include science and social studies. The high number of work hours for elementary students is intended to put an emphasis on foundational principles.
For high school students, the focus of Learn at Home will be on achieving credits, completion and graduation. Students between Grades 9 and 12 will be expected to complete three hours of work per week for semestered students and 90 minutes of work per week for non-semestered students.
According to Minister Lecce, Learn at Home is designed to be as flexible and reasonable as possible in light of the current pandemic and to leave open the possibility of retaining some of Ontario’s school year in class. Minister Lecce said that the government has not yet made a decision about extending the school year into the summer. This will be revisited closer to May. The government will also work with school boards to look at methods of ensuring a seamless transition for students at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year in September.
Minister Lecce asked for the support of school boards in deploying human resources to enable a smooth transition to virtual learning for students through measures such as assisting to distribute laptops or hard-copy materials to students without access to broadband.
The Ministry of Education has also posted a new challenge to Ontario Together looking for learning resources for students, parents and educators, as well as virtual learning devices for families in need.
Support for Post-Secondary Sector – Minister Ross Romano
Minister Romano provided updates on the Ontario government’s efforts to support post-secondary students and recent graduates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To support borrowers Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loan repayments will be subject to an interest-free moratorium until September 30.
Ontario has also finalized an agreement with eCampusOntario to make digital learning supports available in both English and French. These supports will enable colleges and universities to conduct year-end assessments while preserving student privacy and the integrity of academic assessment.
Minister Romano also announced that Ontario is distributing $25 million in additional funding to colleges, universities and Indigenous Institutes. This funding can be used as each institution sees fit to address concerns or needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In response to questions about moving subsequent terms online, Minister Romano said that he is currently focused on immediate needs for the post-secondary sector. He will continue to work with post-secondary institutions to determine next steps for the upcoming summer and fall terms.
Ontario Extends Declaration of Emergency – Premier Doug Ford
Yesterday evening Ontario extended its Declaration of Emergency and associated emergency measures until April 13. This extension also applies to the closure of non-essential workplaces and restrictions on social gatherings.
Ontario also issued a new emergency order to close all outdoor recreational amenities, including playgrounds, sports fields and courts, off-leash dog parks, beaches, skate parks, picnic areas, outdoor community gardens, park shelters, outdoor exercise equipment, condo parks and gardens and other outdoor recreational amenities. Ontario provincial parks and conservation areas also remain closed.
Green spaces in parks, trails and conservation areas that are not otherwise closed remain open for walkthrough access, although Ontarians are reminded to maintain a distance of two metres from others.