The province is planning on sending grade school kids back to class for five days a week, and many of them will be wearing masks while they learn.
Mandatory masks in the classroom
Education Minister Stephen Lecce handed down a new back-to-school plan on Thursday, detailing the strategies used to keep kids safe in the classroom. Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks while in school. Kids in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in common spaces.
The province will provide medical masks for teachers and all other school staff.
This new provincial plan also includes cohorting, distancing, limiting visitors in schools, as well as self-screening, and encouraging hand hygiene.
Local school boards to allow in-person secondary school study
As for secondary schools, select school boards will open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of around 15 students. They would attend on alternate days or alternate schedules so that they would be in class at least half of all school days. Those secondary schools with generally smaller enrolment will open with daily attendance by students. Both the Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board fall into the latter category.
The Education Ministry says parents will be able to opt for either in-person or remote learning as delivered by their school boards. Those students with a high level of special educational needs and are otherwise unable to learn remotely will be permitted daily attendance and instruction.
School boards are being instructed to be ready to implement adapted or remote learning models if required.
Before and after school programming will be made available. Schools, child care operators, and authorized recreation providers in schools will collaborate to ensure that student lists and information are readily available should contact tracing be required.
Students showing COVID symptoms will be separated from the rest
The province is establishing a new school health monitoring system that would monitor and respond to reports of COVID-19 symptoms in schools. Those displaying symptoms would be immediately separated from others. Those who subsequently test positive for COVID would not be permitted to return to school until they are cleared by their public health unit. Those testing negative can return to class once symptom-free for 24 hours.
Schools are instructed to ensure records of classes, transported students, and visitors are maintained should a local health unit require it for contact tracing. Added training on all required processes and procedures will be provided to school staff.
Over $300 million earmarked to pay for it all
To help pay for all this, the Ontario Government is committing $309 million. That will go towards masks and personal protective equipment, additional staffing, cleaning supplies, health and safety training, transportation, lab testing capacity, as well as additional mental health supports for students, and more public health nurses.
It is expected most schools will be open as of September 8. Private schools are encouraged to adopt the province’s guidelines and work with their local health units in safely reopening their schools.