Ontario government authorises school reopening

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The Ontario government has announced that schools for in-class instruction will resume beginning this September. This plan was developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric experts.

The Plan, as announced by the government stated that elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen province-wide, 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.

Under the plan, parents will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery, giving them the final say in whether their children will return to class next month. The official statement also pointed out that the government is providing over $300 million in targeted, immediate, and evidence-informed investments, including the provision of PPE for staff and students, funding to ensure class sizes remain small, financial support to allow for healthcare workers to be available to schools to monitor the health of the children, and the provision of extra custodial staff and equipment to keep schools clean.

Funds are also being allocated to maintain a high level of cleanliness on school buses. $10 million is provided to support special needs students in the classroom and the same amount to support student mental health.

“This plan reflects the best medical and scientific advice with a single aim: to keep your child safe,” said Education Minister, Stephen Lecce. “While this plan will continue to evolve to respond to the changing threat of COVID-19, we will remain constant and consistent in investing in the resources, staffing, and cleaning supports, and strict health and safety protocols to keep our communities and our classrooms safe.”

“Based on the current data, we are seeing that overall instances of COVID-19 are declining in Ontario. When considering the health of the whole child, and as long as this trend continues, we believe that with the appropriate measures and strategies in place to handle potential outbreaks and prevent spread, schools are expected to be a safe place for Ontario’s students and staff who attend in person,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “We will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety of students and staff and will be prepared to transition to alternative options should circumstances change.”

Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of SickKids, noted the concerns of many parents and teachers that the loss of school activities and social interaction is having a negative effect on the mental health of children across the province:

“While we recognize that COVID-19 will be with us for some time, continuing to stay home from school has become untenable for many children, youth and families. Effective, evidence-based strategies can help promote the safety of students, teachers, school staff and families as they return to school.”

In the event of positive cases of COVID-19 among students, parents, teachers, or other staff, protocols are being put in place that “will enable immediate action by health and education sector officials to identify, track, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the education system. Every school board will have communication protocols in place to keep families informed.”

The announcement of the reopening of schools also provided some data on how students have been taking advantage of on-line opportunities for learning. Over the summer, students and families took advantage of expanded summer learning across the province. Over 150,000 students enrolled in high school programs, including more than 21,000 students who took Reach Ahead credits. Elementary students participated in literacy and numeracy programs and students with special education needs and mental health concerns are participating in new targeted and transition programs in preparation for the coming school year.

Parents and guardians still have until August 31, 2020 to apply for Support for Families. Under this program, parents or guardians of children between 0-12 years old, or up to 21 years old for children and youth with special needs, are eligible for a one-time payment, per child, to purchase educational materials to support learning at home.

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