August 26, 2020, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce reacted to the federal government’s announcement of the $2 billion Safe Return to Class Fund, to be provided to provinces to safely reopen schools. The federal funding, $381 million of which will be immediately provided to Ontario, will be directed towards several priority areas in the province’s schools.
The Ontario government also released the Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools and the COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management documents, which provide guidelines on managing COVID-19 cases and/or outbreaks in schools. Chief Coroner for Ontario, Dr. Dirk Huyer, will lead the province’s efforts to prevent and minimize outbreaks in the education sector.
Premier Ford and Minister Lecce were joined by Dr. Huyer, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.
Reaction to Federal Announcement of Safe Return to Class Fund
This afternoon, Premier Ford and Minister Lecce reacted to the federal government’s announcement of the Safe Return to Class Fund and provided details of how Ontario’s share of the funding will support the safe reopening of schools.
Of the $2 billion federal fund, $763 million will be provided to Ontario in two installments. The first installment of $381 million will be provided to the province immediately. The funding is flexible so that each recipient province can direct its share towards local and regional priority areas.
Ontario’s initial $381 million will support the following priority areas for the safe reopening of schools:
- $200 million: Reopening Plan Implementation
- $100 million to complement health and safety components of school reopening plans, according to school board priorities and in consultation with local public health units. This may be used for the hiring of custodians, HVAC improvements, internet connectivity for students, and other local needs.
- $30 million in additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools.
- $70 million for the temporary hiring of educators.
- $70 million: Student Transportation
- $44.5 million for the school bus Driver Retention Program.
- $25.5 million for route protection and efforts to reduce the number of students on buses.
- $12.5 million: Additional special education and mental health supports, including hiring staff
- $12.5 million: Hiring up to 125 additional public health nurses to help schools manage COVID-19 cases
- $36 million: Remote learning
- $50 million: Future pandemic learning needs (including responding to a second wave and/or flu season)
The federal funding announced today is in addition to the nearly $900 million already announced by Ontario to support a safe return to school.
Details of the second half of Ontario’s share of the Safe to Return to Class Fund will be announced later this year.
Guidance Documents for COVID-19 Management in Schools
Also this afternoon, Ontario released guidance documents for the management of COVID-19 cases and/or outbreaks in schools. The documents were developed in consultation with provincial public health experts and aim to help schools identify and isolate COVID-19 cases, in order to reduce the spread of the virus and minimize outbreaks.
Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools includes detailed instructions for school boards and authorities to respond to a variety of scenarios, and delineates the roles of key groups including school boards and schools, local public health units, and parents.
- School boards and schools are responsible for keeping communities informed through a COVID-19 advisory section on the board and school websites.
- Local public health units are responsible for leading case and contact tracing, declaring outbreaks, and directing the closure of classrooms or schools where necessary. Protocols are in place for triggering public health responses. One case will trigger a public health response, while two or more linked cases will trigger the declaration of an outbreak.
- Parents and guardians are responsible for screening their children each day before school and keeping children home if they are ill.
In addition, the document also provides steps to follow when a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, including notifying the school community while respecting individual privacy.
The COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management document, also released today, provides information for medical officers of health and local public health units to support the investigation of cases, outbreaks, and suspected outbreaks in school settings. New guidance includes the following:
- Following an established protocol to respond to students who become ill while at school, including isolation and providing PPE to the student and staff attending to them.
- Following an established communications process to notify parents of positive COVID-19 cases (inclusive of staff and students) within their child’s school.
- Requiring school boards and public health units to work closely, communicate, and reach decisions on whether a particular class or school must be closed.
- Conducting asymptomatic surveillance testing on students in secondary schools, led by Ontario Public Health.
All education staff will be required to complete professional development training on health and safety.