Independent Plus Listowel Banner Local News News Walkerton Herald-Times Wingham Advance Times

Province asks school boards to plan for all scenarios come September

School boards will be able to decide a plan that works best for their students, staff based on advice from public health

TORONTO – The Ontario government has released its plan to reopen schools this September.

What reopening looks like, however, will be decided by each school board in conjunction with advice from local public health officials.

“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids in this province,” said Premier Doug Ford on June 19.

“Parents expect us to take every precaution to keep their children safe when they go back to school in September.

“This plan takes the best medical advice available from our public health 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 will allow parents to either send their children to school for in-class learning or learn online.

Ford and education minister Stephen Lecce have asked school boards across the province to develop plans for various learning methods.

Those methods are:

  • normal school day routine where students would go to school every day in standard class sizes;
  • a modified school day routine that would allow for physical distancing and a cap of 15 students in a classroom at one time. Timetables for classes would also be altered to limit contact with teachers to one teacher per day. This method would also see students attend class on altering days or weeks to accommodate class sizes; and
  • at home learning. The province is asking school boards to be prepared to offer online learning in case of extended school closures or if some parents choose not to send their child back to school. Boards are also expected to establish minimum expectations for students to have direct contact with their teacher.

Other considerations school boards will consider are staggered bell times and recesses, different transportation arrangements, as well as other considerations to keep students and staff safe.

Boards are expected to have their plans submitted to the Ministry of Education no later than Aug. 4.

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

“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 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.”

Other key parts of the province’s 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;
  • supports for students with special education needs;
  • enhanced mental health and well-being supports;
  • 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;
  • expectations for the delivery of curriculum and assessment across subjects and grades;
  • guidance for working with First Nations students, parents and communities;
  • regional options for reopening based on the advice of local public health authorities; and
  • a checklist to help boards in their reopening planning.

The province’s full plan can be read by clicking online.

New funding

The Ontario government also announced a plethora of new funding for the education system on June 19.

The province plans on spending $25.5 billion on the public education sector during the 2020-21 school year, an increase of $736 million.

Ontario will spend an average of $12,525 per student next year, an increase of $250 from the current school year.

This funding will be distributed through the Grants for Students Needs program, and all 72 school boards in the province are expected to see additional funds.

“We are investing more in our students to ensure they are safe, and well prepared to hit the books beginning in September,” said Lecce.

“As we review all scenarios related to the COVID-19 outbreak, our government is supporting each and every school board in the province to ensure our students and educators have the resources available for a successful year.”

Included in the new funding is a new $213 million in student-centric Supports for Students Fund. This fund will support special education, mental health and well-being, language instruction, Indigenous education and STEM programming.

The government also announced an additional $4 million in funding for cleaning and financial support to hire additional custodial staff in September.