Ontario is preparing a three scenario plan for returning children to schools across the province, ranging from online learning only to a full resumption of regular class with some distancing measures put in place.
"We are tasking school boards to produce three plans, to prepare for any circumstance that gets thrown at us," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said.
Based on the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in September, Education Minister Stephen Lecce says school boards will be given the option of:
- A full resumption of regular in-class instruction, with strict public health measures, similar to what was recommended by Sick Kids Hospital.
- A mixed model of students attending class on alternating days or weeks, “cohorted” into groups of no more than 15, with alternating bells and online learning for the days they’re not in class.
- Online-only learning with live instruction by teachers if the risk of contracting COVID-19 is deemed to be too great.
Lecce said individual boards and local public health officers will be able to decide what option to select in September, with most boards likely starting with the mixed model.
He said each board will receive additional funding to cover adjustments needed due to COVID-19.
"Should Ontario continue to flatten the curve and continue to make gains we will allow school board to move closer to a conventional classroom experience, with stringent health and safety protocols in place," Lecce said.
Premier Ford said that any parent who doesn’t feel comfortable sending their child to school in September will continue to be allowed to participate in online learning.
“You need certainty but if you don’t feel comfortable – we will keep at-home learning available for your child.”
Lecce said he understood that a staggered, alternating attendance model would pose challenges for parents working full-time, but he said the government’s priority was to not turn the resumption of schooling into a driver of COVID-19 infection.
“Out of an abundance of caution, given that we’re going from six months of closed schools to two million kids in school in sept, we‘ve got to get this right. My instruction from the Premier was to do whatever it takes to ensure a successful, positive and safe reopening.”
Lecce said there is no specific threshold to dictate when schools move from the mixed 15-kids per classroom and online model to a full resumption class, saying only that local chief medial officers of health will have the call on what conditions would merit a full return of class.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles said that the education budget for the 2020-2021 school year, which increased by about $250 per pupil, does little to help with kids returning to class, especially when things will be so different than normal this September.
"When they go back to school there are not really any significant investments for students to help them catch up, to help them find their way," she said.
She added that schools were not designed to house kids in 15-person cohorts, and there is little explanation of how school boards will properly keep children separate throughout the day.
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation President Harvey Bischof said Lecce's plan, especially the mixed class and online model, was little more than "a couple of bare bones principles" and not a plan.
He said the ideas such as the "cohorting" of 15 students together with one teacher throughout the day makes no sense in the high school setting.
"I can see that working relatively well in an elementary school, I don’t know how that begins to apply to the secondary school setting where typically students take four classes a day in a semestered school with four different teachers and four different cohorts of students," Bischof told CP24. "So what’s the plan to address that – we heard nothing by way of detail in that regard."