Ontario Government Announces Safe Re-Opening Plans for Post-Secondary

As part of series of week-long announcements about re-opening the province, the Government of Ontario revealed Wednesday how they will approach the re-opening of post-secondary education. Starting in July, in-person classes will begin again in a limited fashion after consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, but what that looks like in practice will be another matter altogether.

According to the new provincial policy, the first phase of in-person classes will be directed to “essential, frontline, and high labour market demand areas” and that would include nurses, personal support workers, and engineers. These summer classes will allow universities to further prepare for the fall when students will be able to take classes either virtually, in-person, or in some kind of hybrid format.

“It’s critical that we allow students to complete their studies and graduate so they can join the workforce in high-demand, frontline roles and help put the province back on the path to prosperity,” said Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano in a statement. “I will continue to collaborate with the post-secondary sector to determine how best to move forward on reopening our campuses in the fall and beyond in a way that is responsible and safe for our students and staff.”

At the University of Guelph, it sounds like things are not quite ready to go back to business as usual. Their COVID-19 update page for Wednesday noted that they’re presently proceeding under the emergency orders and have a minimum complement of staff on campus for essential operations and research. All on-campus events are cancelled until September.

Last week, incoming U of G President Charlotte Yates posted to the U of G website what plans they’re working on concerning the Fall semester. “Following extensive consultation, the University has refined its definition of the announced hybrid approach and what it means for fall 2020,” Yates wrote. “We must prepare for the majority of our classes to be delivered online or in an alternative format. Nonetheless, we have the capacity for up to 25 percent of our courses or partial course material to be taught in a face-to-face format.”

It terms of living arrangements, it seems that only international students and “students with special circumstances” like limited internet, no alternative housing, or unsuitable living arrangements for successful studying will be considered for on-campus housing.

“We are confident that we can safely manage having those students on campus,” Yates said. “We will reassess our residence decisions for winter 2021 according to public health considerations and the needs of students.”

One certainty for the Fall is that there will be no varsity sports. Earlier this week the Gryphons, along with Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and U Sports, announced that they are suspending all campus sports along with intra-club programs until Winter 2021.

“Athletics is the heartbeat of the U of G campus and while we share in the disappointment with our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, our primary responsibility is the safety of our people and our community,” said Director of Athletics Scott McRoberts in a statement. “It is now our full intention to push forward together with our governing sport bodies and our University to get back to sport sooner than later.”

Conestoga College has also cancelled varsity sports and recreation activities for the Fall per the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA).

“The safety of the entire OCAA membership and our participants is our top priority, but we understand and share the deep disappointment this causes, especially for our 4,000 student-athletes,” said OCAA president Nathan McFadden in a media release. “We will get through this, and when we resume competition, the viability of the OCAA will be more important than ever before in bringing our campuses and communities together in sport.”

Late last month, Conestoga announced that it is their expectation that for the Fall semester many classes will continue to be delivered online, but their labs, shops and studios will be held face-to-face and will be scheduled in a way to allow for physical distancing. “The objective is to achieve a gradual, safe return to our campuses, with as much on-campus activity as is practical and sensible within public health guidelines,” said Conestoga President John Tibbits in a statement last week.

Tibbits also announced that they’ll be laying off 60 full-time support staff members starting on June 15 to deal with the cost shortfalls. So far, the U of G has not announced any layoffs or furloughs because of the pandemic.

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