Masks mandatory for teachers, students in Grades 4-12
WHITBY – Students will be returning to school full-time this September.
The Ontario government announced their back-to-school plans on Thursday afternoon at a media conference at Father Leo Austin School in Whitby.
Last month, the province asked school boards to prepare three different reopening plans for this fall including full-time, in-class learning; full-time, at-home learning; and a hybrid delivery model with some in-class learning and some at-home learning.
“Keeping kids healthy and safe is my top priority,” said Premier Doug Ford. “We are going to get our kids back to school in a way that is as close to five-day-a-week learning as it has been.”
According to the plan announced on July 30, students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 will attend school five days per week and will remain in one cohort or group for the entire day, including lunch and recess breaks.
Elementary students remain in one classroom with their homeroom teacher (when possible) and will have limited contact with subject-specific teachers such as French, art, or physical education.
There will also be enhanced health and safety protocols in place.
Secondary school students (Grades 9-12) in some school boards, including those locally, will attend school five days a week. Timetables will be set to allow for the class groupings to remain the same throughout the day.
The province’s plan recommends secondary school students limit contacts to 100 people. School boards are being encouraged to keep in-person groupings to two classes within a grade.
The plan also calls for a quadmester system, meaning secondary school students will take two classes per day instead of four under the current semester system.
Students with special needs will be allowed to attend school full-time.
Parents also have the option to have their children do at home learning with materials provided by the school board and education ministry if they feel uncomfortable or are unable to attend in-class.
School staff and students in Grades 4-12 will be required to wear face coverings. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will not be required to wear masks but are being encouraged to do so. Face coverings will be provided to schools to give to students who do not have one.
Reasonable exceptions to wearing masks will be made for medical reasons.
The province says that school spaces are being altered to allow for more physical distancing, increased hand-hygiene, and visits to the school will be limited.
SIGNS OF SYMPTOMS
Under the plan announced by education minister Stephen Lecce, staff or students who develop COVID-19 symptoms will be immediately separated from others in the school. Staff and students will be asked to consult with their health care provider to be tested for COVID-19.
Those who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school until they receive approval to do so from public health officials. People who receive a negative COVID-19 test can return to school once they are symptom-free for 24-hours.
Any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a school will be immediately reported to the local health unit.
Students are being encouraged to walk to school if they live close by or arrange for private transportation (i.e. get dropped off at school by a parent) if possible. Those who need to take the school bus will be able to do so. Students from the same family will be grouped together on the bus.
The education ministry has also acknowledged that additional buses may be needed to allow for physical distancing.
The rules for face coverings on the bus will be the same as in the classroom: Kindergarten to Grade 3 students will not have to wear one, while Grade 4-12 students will.
The seats on buses will also be sanitized twice per day.
Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields, will be provided for bus drivers. Hand sanitizer will be provided to all students.
Separate transportation will be assigned for immuno-compromised students through special needs transportation.
Ford stated that $309 million in additional funding is being allocated to pay for these measures, including:
- PPE ($60 million);
- additional staffing ($80 million);
- transportation – cleaning supplies and PPE ($40 million);
- additional public health nurses ($50 million);
- increased lab testing capacity ($23.7 million);
- additional custodians and cleaning supplies for schools ($75 million);
- mental health supports ($10 million); and
- support for students with special needs ($10 million).
CRITICISM OF PLAN
The four major education unions – the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) – issued a statement on Thursday afternoon in response to the province’s return to school plan.
The four unions, which represent 200,000 teachers and education workers throughout the province, said the plan falls short of the $3 billion they estimate would be needed for a safe and healthy return to school.
“While the announcement of new funding is welcome, it’s quite clear that the Ford government isn’t willing to pay the full cost of ensuring the safety of students and educators in September,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond.
“The Premier promised Ontarians that he ‘will spare no expense’ to keep people safe, yet he and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are betraying that promise to students, educators, parents and communities with this ill-prepared plan.”
OSSTF president Harvey Bischof express his disappointment in the announcement, calling it a “half-baked scheme” from the province.
“This plan is an insult to every student, every parent and every educator in the province of Ontario,” said Harvey Bischof.
“The Ford government has had four months to come up with a serious strategy – four months to consult, to plan, and to allocate appropriate resources to ensure a safe return to school in September. It’s clear from today’s announcement that they have squandered that time. In the midst of a global pandemic, Ontario deserves more than yet another half-baked scheme from Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce.”