Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that the government is “finalizing the health protocols” for the resumption of school in September and that an announcement could be coming as soon as next week on what it will look like.

Back in June the Ford government asked school boards to prepare three separate plans for the resumption of classes – online learning only, a hybrid model with children attending classes in-person on alternating days or weeks and the fulltime resumption of in-person instruction.

The boards still have until Aug. 4 to submit those plans but Lecce revealed on Thursday that an announcement could be coming before then on the various regulations and rules that schools will have to follow.

A spokesperson for the education minister later clarified to CP24 that the announcement will pertain to “consistent standards” that will be put in place at schools across Ontario on things like seating arrangements and the wearing of masks.

The decision as to which model a particular board follows will still be left with local public health officials, the spokesperson said.

“We are finalizing the health protocols and working very closely with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and some of the best pediatric minds in the nation that are informing the plan,” Lecce said during a press conference in Brampton. “We believe we will be able to unveil it next week. That will include additional supports and resources to enable our boards to succeed.”

Lecce initially said that individual school boards would be able to choose which plan they want to follow based on the risk posed by COVID-19 to their communities.

Premier Doug Ford has since said that he wants students to return to school fulltime in September provided it is safe to do so.

Yesterday, Ford said the public should be open to unorthodox ideas to keep kids safe, such as holding class outdoors.

“The premier and the government continue to be focused on a safe, conventional, day-to-day return to school,” Lecce said Thursday. “Maybe a new conventional where kids still can go to school five days a week.”

It should be noted that a number of school boards have previously said that any resumption of full-time classes, five days per week, will carry a cost due to the need to limit class sizes.

The Toronto District School Board, for instance, says that if it were to cohort all elementary students in groups of 15 and keep days the same length as before it would need to hire nearly 2,500 new teachers at a cost of $249 million.

In a statement provided to CP24 on Thursday afternoon, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said that it has seen “no indication the government has any plan to make the significant investments that would be necessary for schools to reopen safely" in the fall.

The association, which represents 45,000 education staff, said that there will need to be “smaller class sizes” not to mention “proper screening protocols” and “personal protective equipment for all students and staff.”

"That has been a significant piece that's been missing as to how these processes are going to be protocols are going to be funded," OECTA President Liz Stuart said in an interview with CP24.

"But not only that, it's providing that leadership that has been lacking and that clear direction about what is expected in terms of safety and health for students and staff, as we return to schools in September. That's been a little vague."

It says that while the Ford government’s “agenda seems to change from day to day,” the thing that has remained constant is the lack of answers on those “pressing” issues.

Meanwhile, in a separate statement the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario accused the Ford government of refusing to provide “sufficient emergency funding to ensure a safe return to school” in the fall.

“Without this emergency funding, we are sending students and educators into a work and learning environment where safety is not assured. This scenario suggests that the government priorities for restarting the economy are greater than protecting the province’s children, educators, parents and their communities,” the statement reads.

The Ford government has said in the past that it is already increasing the funding it gives to school boards with the TDSB in line to receive an additional $55 million this year. About $23 million of that is set aside to hire new teachers.