By Mira Williamson

Elementary students can return to class full-time in September, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Thursday.

“We are going to get our kids back to school in a way that looks and feels as much as it used to,” said Ford. 

The Ontario government unveiled its plan to safely reopen schools for in-class learning.

By Sept.1, all publicly-funded elementary schools will reopen five days a week, and the childcare sector will safely reopen to reach full capacity, said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. 

But the reopening for most secondary schools will operate under an adapted model—students will be split into groups of 15 and alternate between attending in-person and online classes. Schools with “lower risk profiles” will be able to fully reopen, said Lecce. 

“We’ve heard loud and clear from medical and pediatrics experts that COVID-19 has had profound mental health impacts on our kids,” said Lecce.

Reopening schools is crucial to the social and emotional development of Ontario students, and it will allow parents to get back to work, he said.

Schools will be implementing public health measures such as making masks mandatory for staff and students grades 4-12 (with exceptions for those with medical conditions), cohorting to limit contact, expanding testing in schools, frequently cleaning school busses, and adding more health and safety training for teachers. PPE (personal protective equipment) will be provided to all staff and students.

Ford announced that the province is investing $309 million to get children safely back to school. This includes $60 million to procure medical and cloth masks; $10 million to support special education curriculum and $10 million to support student mental health. 

With this funding, the province will hire up to 500 new public health nurses for schools and 900 custodians.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, said they have not determined how the nurses will be distributed, but the nurses will be working schools to enforce public health protocols.

But the Ontario NDP education critic said that Ford’s plan is a “low-budget scheme to save money on the backs of children” in a statement released Thursday.  

Ontario should spend more and hire thousands of teachers, education workers and custodians, so kids can return to school in smaller classes and reduce the risk of an outbreak, said Marit Stiles. 

“Classrooms were already overcrowded, and the Ford government is sending kids right back into those packed classrooms,” said Stiles in the statement.

“Funding a pathetic $16,000 per school for more staff means schools can’t break up kids into smaller, safer groups.”

Stiles also disagreed with the adapted model for high school students and said online learning did not work for most of them.

“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,” she said.

“This could hurt graduation rates, attendance rates, and even ruin some kids’ plans for college or university.” 

Stiles said the NDP is urging the province to add funding to the reopening plan.

Some Twitter users were also unimpressed with Ford’s funding announcement:

Other important aspects of the reopening plan include screening training and contact tracing. Dr. Yaffe said all people in contact with a case or suspected case will be tested, and it will be easy to trace contact because of the cohorting. 

Parents will also be able to opt-out of in-person learning for their children and enroll them in online classes. Lecce said they will respect teachers’ decisions to not return to the classroom for safety concerns, but they will still be expected to teach online.

“[Teachers] always have the right not to go into the classrooms,” said Ford. “But I really wish as many as possible, if not all, could show up to the classroom because they’ve done an incredible job, but we really, really need them. The parents need them, the province needs them.”

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.