Ontario Government Releases Plan to Re-Open Schools in the Fall

The school year is almost over, but the planning for next year is now a less opaque thanks to an announcement from Queen’s Park on Friday. Education Minister Stephen Lecce took part in Friday’s press conference where the Government of Ontario laid out how the province’s schools will operate in the fall, and it will have to be multiple choice as school boards must prepare three different plans in case of the circumstances.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

All of the province’s school boards have to prepare three plans for three different scenarios. The first scenario is that everything is cool and it’s just a normal school year, the second scenarios is that learning-at-home will continue, and the final, most complicated one, is a hybrid between the two called the modified school routine. The modified model will see classrooms redesigned for physical distancing and smaller class sizes with a limit of 15, and an alternating timetable that would allow students to spend as much time as possible with the same group of classmates and the same teacher where possible.

“Having careful plans in place to reopen schools in September is of the utmost importance for the mental and developmental health of children and youth, as well as their academic success,” says Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of SickKids. “The risk posed by COVID-19 cannot be completely eliminated, however, there are significant steps that can be taken to mitigate risk and protect the health and well-being of students, staff and their families.”

The government is also releasing a series of guidelines that will inform on how schools will re-open, and what they will need to do in order to re-open safely. Resources include new support for students with special needs, protocols for riding the school bus, how to movesstudents safely inside the school, professional development for teachers on the new safety protocols, and how to use personal protective equipment (PPE). Along with that, the government is providing $4 million in new funding for new cleaning measures and custodial staff.

School boards have until August 4 to provide the Ministry of the Education with their three plans, but as of right now there’s no guarantee about what the 2020/2021 school year will look like.

“We hope that public health situation willcontinue to improve and allow school boards to enter a conventional classroom experience, once it is safe to do so,” Lecce said in a letter to parents. “Local and regional health authorities –in conjunction with a Ministry of Education established table of medical experts –will help shape the way forward, to ensure the realities on the ground within your communities are best reflected.”

In addition to the changes meant to protect schools against the further spread of COVID-19, the government announced that they’re giving out an additional $736 million for the next school year, which will bring the annual Grants for Student Needs (GSN) to $25.5 billion. While the government is touting this as the largest investment in public education in Ontario’s history, they have yet to release next year’s GSN, and the school board budgets that are based on those numbers are supposed to be due on June 30.

The Upper Grand District School Board’s regular meeting is on Tuesday.

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