Ontario Providing Critical Investments and Resources to Keep Students and Staff Safe
TORONTO — “It’s been hard on families to balance work and child care, while kids have been separated from friends and other kids their own age. We want to get our kids back to school, but it has to be done safely,” said Premier Ford. “That’s why we’ve worked with our public health experts, Ontario Health and the medical experts at SickKids to develop a plan that ensures students can return to the classroom five days a week in a way that protects the health and safety of our children, teachers, and school staff.”
The Ontario government is announcing the safe reopening of schools for in-class instruction beginning this September. The government has unveiled a plan that prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff and provides school boards with unprecedented resources and flexibility while accommodating regional differences in trends of key public health indicators. This plan was developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the COVID-19 Command Table, and paediatric experts.
Details on the safe restart of the 2020-2021 school year were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen provincewide, 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.
Parents will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery, which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school.
The Ontario New Democrats call the Premier’s plan a “scheme” and that it won’t work
NDP Education critic Marit Stiles says, “The right solution is hiring thousands of teachers, education workers and custodians so that all kids can return to school in the fall full time, but in smaller, safer classes. Instead, the scheme released by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Thursday includes just $16,000 per school for additional staff — far less than one new staff person per school”.
“Classrooms were already overcrowded, and the Ford government is sending kids right back into those packed classrooms,” continues Stiles. “These kids should be in smaller class sizes so they can physically distance, and reduce the chances of spreading an outbreak,” said Stiles. “Funding a pathetic $16,000 per school for more staff means schools can’t break up kids into smaller, safer groups.”
Stiles said the plan to have high school students in designated school boards forced to stay home 50 per cent of the time, learning online instead of at school, puts academic futures at risk for thousands – especially, since no teachers will be added to support that. According to the government’s guidelines, for half of the time, students “would be assigned curriculum-linked independent work on remote learning days and, where possible, would participate in synchronous learning with their teacher and classmates for a period of each school day.”
“Online learning didn’t work for most high school students,” said Stiles. “Now the Ford government is forcing them to do half their classes alone at home, with no guarantee they’ll get instruction, let alone help or one-on-one support. This could hurt graduation rates, attendance rates, and even ruin some kids’ plans for college or university.”
“My heart goes out to all the parents, teachers and education workers who are going to be crestfallen about this announcement. We should be sparing no expense to give children both safety, and the best education we can. Instead, Ford has put together a low-budget scheme to save money on the backs of children, and the price of that is a higher risk to their health and safety, and risk to their academic success.
“It’s not too late. We are urging the Ford government to add funding, and get to work getting thousands of teachers, education workers, custodians and classroom spaces lined up so that all students can join a small, safer classroom in September.”
The Ford Government states that based on the best medical advice available, the province is implementing additional public health protocols to keep students and staff safe when they return to school in September. To support the implementation of these protocols, the government is providing over $300 million in targeted, immediate, and evidence-informed investments, including:
· $60 million in the procurement of medical and cloth masks for students and staff, with direction to boards to ensure that students who cannot afford a mask are provided one;
· $30 million for teacher staffing to support supervision, keeping classes small and other safety-related measures;
· $50 million to hire up to 500 additional school-focused nurses in public health units to provide rapid-response support to schools and boards in facilitating public health and preventative measures, including screening, testing, tracing and mitigation strategies;
· Over $23 million to provide testing capacity to help keep schools safe;
· $75 million in funding to hire over 900 additional custodians and purchase cleaning supplies for schools;
· $40 million to clean school buses, to ensure that students are in a thoroughly cleaned transportation environment;
· $10 million for health and safety training for occasional teachers, who have historically not been covered by professional development that is offered to permanent teachers;
· $10 million to support special needs students in the classroom; and
· $10 million to support student mental health.
This funding is in addition to a $25 million investment in mental health and technology, which will see an additional $10 million dedicated to mental health staff, resources, and programs, as well as $15 million in technology funding to support the procurement of over 35,000 devices for Ontario’s students to support their synchronous learning in-school and beyond.
“This plan reflects the best medical and scientific advice with a single aim: to keep your child safe,” added Minister 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.”
The Ministry of Education has received clear and compelling public health guidance to inform the delivery of instruction for boards for the 2020-2021 school year. These decisions are adaptable to changing public health situations and were based on the rigorous and data-informed guidance of leading medical, epidemiological, and paediatric leaders in the province.
“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.”
“As a society, we’ve made an important shift in the dialogue about our children and the adverse health impacts of school closures,” says Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of SickKids. “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.”
The Ministry of Education will continue working closely with public health and school boards to monitor and report on the health status of school communities, which is part of the government’s outbreak management plan. This plan, which was developed with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of the Solicitor General and the Ministry of Health, outlines clear protocols and authorities of the multiple agencies and organizations involved in the public health landscape. In the event of positive cases of COVID-19 among students, parents, teachers, or other staff, these protocols 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.