Ontario prepares for the safe reopening of schools

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Today (June 19), the government of Ontario released its safety plan for the resumption of class for the 2020-21 school year and outlined scenarios for how students, teachers and staff can safely return to classrooms in September.

This plan will also provide choice to parents, enhanced online learning and additional funding.

The decision to return to the normal school day routine will continue to be based on medical advice, but boards and schools are being asked to plan for scenarios that may need to be implemented in September.

This will depend on the province’s COVID-19 situation at the time. 

“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids in this province. Parents expect us to take every precaution to keep their children safe when they go back to school in September - and that’s exactly what we’re delivering today,” said Premier Ford.

“This plan takes the best medical advice available from our public heath experts to ensure every school board and every school is ready to ensure students continue learning in the safest way possible.”

The province’s plan to safely reopen schools will provide options for parents to send their children in-class or to enter online learning.

Depending on the public health situation at the time, boards will be asked to plan for three scenarios to be implemented in September.

The first scenario is a normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols and students going to school every day, in classes that reflect standard class size regulations.

The second scenario is a modified school day routine which will be based on public health advice.

An adapted delivery model has been designed to allow for physical distancing and cohorts of students and under this model, school boards are asked to maintain a limit of 15 students in a typical classroom at one time.

Additionally, they are asked to adopt timetabling that would allow students to remain in contact only with their classmates and a single teacher for as much of the school day as possible.

This model would require an alternate day or alternate week delivery to a segment of the class at one time.

The third scenario is at-home learning. Should the school closure be extended, or some parents choose not to send their child back to school, school boards need to be prepared to offer remote education.

The government is instructing school boards to be prepared with a plan that includes an adapted delivery model.

This could include an alternate day or alternate week attendance, staggered bell times and recess and different transportation arrangements, among other considerations to ensure the safety of students and staff.

The government’s safety plan for schools was created following extensive consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, health experts on the COVID-19 Command Table, medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children, education sector partners, frontline workers, parents and students.

“We are taking every precaution, investing more, and listening to the best medical advice in the country to keep students, staff, and families safe,” said Minister Lecce.

“I want to assure parents safety is our guiding principle and the right supports are being put in place to ensure our students are set up for success. I am grateful to Ontario students, education staff, and communities for stepping up during this difficult period.”

Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of SickKids said, “Having careful plans in place to reopen schools in September is of the utmost importance for the mental and developmental health of children and youth, as well as their academic success.”

“The risk posed by COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated, however, there are significant steps that can be taken to mitigate risk and protect the health and well-being of students, staff and their families,” added Cohn.

Key elements of the safety plan include guidance for developing health and safety protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment, expectations of an in-class school environment, professional development training for teachers on the new protocols and directions, support for students with special education needs and enhanced mental health and well-being supports.

It will also include proposals on how educators and students can move fluidly between in-class and remote learning, guidelines to help schools and boards in their communications with students and parents, guidelines for student transportation systems, expectations for the delivery of curriculum and assessment across subjects and grades, guidance for working with First Nations students, parents and communities, a regional options for reopening based on the advice of local public health authorities and a checklist to help boards in their reopening planning.

The government also announced $4 million in net new funding for cleaning, cleaning protocols and financial support to hire additional custodial staff in September to ensure schools are safe.

School boards have been asked to prepare their own safety plans for the upcoming school year and they must submit them to the ministry by August 4, 2020.

Additionally, the ministry will provide all boards with an opportunity to share their draft plans and seek feedback from a formalized table of medical experts that the ministry will be convening.

School boards will also be required to communicate with parents and students prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, outline the safety plan, provide guidance on health and safety measures and protocols and any other changes that will be implemented when schools reopen in September. 

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