WELLINGTON COUNTY – Elementary and high school students in the Upper Grand and Wellington Catholic school boards will return to school five days a week on Sept. 8.
All students in Grade 4 and up, as well as all staff and school visitors, will be required to wear masks throughout the day.
And parents will have the option of sending their children to class or attending school through live online teacher-led synchronous learning.
Those are the highlights from the announcement by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce on July 30 as they revealed their plan to re-open schools in September.
They backed the plan with $309 million in new funding
Not all high school students across the province will be back full time.
Larger centres like Toronto and Peel will see an adapted model in their high schools – a combination of in-school and online learning.
But because of smaller student populations, Wellington County’s school boards fall into the “non-designated” category and can return full time.
It won’t be back to “normal” at schools, however.
Elementary students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8 will be assigned into cohorts of 25 for the full day, with one teacher. There may be staggered start and finish times to allow for physical distancing.
High schools in designated school boards will have class cohorts of 15 students and will provide timetabling that keeps the cohorts together as much as possible. Those students will attend on alternate days or have alternate schedules. Students in these boards will attend 50 per cent of instructional days.
Students in non-designated boards will attend daily.
There will be heightened cleaning and health protocols.
Everyone will be screened before entering the building and there will be soap and hand sanitizing stations in classrooms and throughout schools.
Physical distancing in classrooms will be one metre.
The plan includes hiring 500 public health nurses to work in schools to ensure health protocols are maintained and to liaise with public health should an outbreak occur.
Nurses will work in families of schools and can be rapidly redeployed if necessary. The province has put $50 million into public health nurses.
The rest of the $309 million will be used for:
- masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) – $60 million;
- additional staffing – $80 million;
- cleaning supplies – $25 million;
- health and safety training – $10 million;
- transportation (cleaning supplies and PPE) – $40 million;
- lab testing capacity – $23.7 million;
- additional mental health supports – $10 million; and
- additional supports for students with special needs – $10 million.
This funding is on top of $25 million already announced for mental health and technology supports and $736 million for the 2020-21 school year announced in June.
Lecce said the plan was made with direction from public health and infectious disease experts, and in consultation with school boards, labour groups, parents and students.
“Teachers told us they want PPE (personal protective equipment), they want to ensure there are masks for students, and that there is a strong outbreak management plan – and there is,” he said.
Lecce also said teachers who feel uncomfortable or unsafe in the classroom can teach online learners instead.
“Their jobs are protected. But they must still teach,” he said.
“We need more educators to do that.”
Lecce said high school students are at greater risk of COVID-19 than younger students, which is why their cohorts are smaller, and why they must wear masks.
He said all of the safety measures together will afford the greatest protection and allow schools to open.
School boards have been working on individual reopening plans and they are to be submitted to the Ministry of Education by Aug. 4.
Once approved by the Ministry, boards will announce their specific, detailed plans to parents and staff.
Unions not pleased
The province’s four major teachers’ unions say the province is “jeopardizing the safety of all Ontarians” by “severely underfunding” its return-to-school plan.
“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,” stated Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
“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.”
The ETFO issued a joint press release on the plan along with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO).
Together the unions represent 200,000 teachers and education workers.
OECTA President Liz Stuart said the province’s plan “does not provide for the safe physical distancing that is expected in the rest of the province,” while OSSTF President Harvey Bischof called it “an insult to every student, every parent and every educator in the province of Ontario.