All students will resume to the classroom full time this September under the Ontario administration’s highly anticipated back-to-school program.
The 26-page program, which the Doug Ford administration originally promised to issue in July, states elementary students and secondary students will go to school five days per week, for the first time in months.
Remote learning will remain an alternative for parents and students who are uncomfortable returning to the classroom.
Masks are mandatory for all students between Grade 1 and Grade 12 and will remain optional for children in kindergarten even though it is recommended. The masks are not required outdoors.
In the plan, the administration revealed school boards must be ready for possible closures and have programs in place so that all students can switch to remote learning if the pandemic worsens.
But, when queried about what would cause such a school closure, Ontario Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kieran Moore stated Tuesday that he doesn’t anticipate having to shut classrooms.
“I really don’t see our schools closing going into the fall and winter and spring,” he noted. “I really can’t envision or see any closures of any schools in Ontario, or colleges or universities.”
“It’s great news for our kids. They will be back with their classmates, where they can get back to activities like music and theatre and sports and develop those friendships that can last a lifetime…but it’s also important to do so cautiously and carefully.”
Today, neither Ford nor the Education Minister, Stephen Lecce are expected to publically address the back-to-school plan.
The plan released on Tuesday did not give parents answers to some of their primary questions, for example, how schools will deal with Coronavirus outbreaks, or if there will be different regulations for vaccinated children.
The administration said that information is still all “forthcoming.”
Students in kindergarten through to Grade 8 will remain in one cohort for the whole day with one teacher, the administration states.
Members of different groups will be permitted to interact outside, with social distancing encouraged, or indoors with distancing and masks, the government reveals.
Elementary school students will be permitted to use common areas like libraries and cafeterias.
Specialized teaching staff such as French teachers are allowed to go into different classrooms and various schools where needed.
While secondary students will be heading to the classroom for a full day, school boards have been mandated to timetable students with a maximum of two courses at a go for the fall semester.
The administration says this will give them the alternative to revert easily to restrictive measures if that becomes a requirement.
The Government states exceptions to the two-course rule may be made for small schools where contacts can be limited by cohorting grades.
For secondary students, there will be five instructional hours per day.
The administration claims no particular measure will prevent transmission of the virus, but states a combination of many methods will keep children safe.
Non-medical masks are necessary for students Grade 1 to 12 and must be worn in classrooms, hallways, and school vehicles.
The government says masks may be temporarily removed while taking part in low-contact physical activity or when consuming food and drink. Students from different cohorts may eat lunch together without social distancing outdoors; however, must remain two metres from other cohorts while indoors.
Students don’t need to wear masks outdoors.
Meanwhile, all students and staff will be forced to self-screen daily for symptoms before getting to school. Any individual experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus must not attend school and must be tested.
The Ministry of Education revealed they might direct school boards to perform on-site confirmation of self-screening daily, particularly during a period of possibly higher transmission. They have not indicated how they will attest that students have completed self-screening.
School boards will carry on providing personal protective equipment to school staff and bus drivers, the administration declares.
School staff and visitors must wear medical-grade masks. The school staff is also recommended to wear eye protection.
Schools are also being urged to train students properly on how to wash their hands and adhere to proper respiratory etiquette.
The administration says that social distancing should be encouraged as much as possible during the school day.
Schools have been told to devise an arrival and departure program so that convening in busy areas is avoided where feasible.
School boards will also be responsible for creating a cleaning plan that includes continual disinfecting of high-touch surfaces.
During recess, the government states that students don’t need to stay within their groups; however, distancing will be encouraged as much as possible.
The administration says the risk of Coronavirus transmission by using shared objects is low; therefore, shared materials will be permitted, along with the use of shared areas like libraries and computer labs. School assemblies will also be allowed.
Meanwhile, the administration has informed the school boards they are in charge of optimizing air quality in the classroom.
Schools with full mechanical ventilation should have the system checked before resuming the school year and tweak the HVAC systems for maximum airflow and increased fresh air intake.
Schools with no full mechanical ventilation are expected to place standalone HEPA filter units in all classrooms.
Outdoor learning is recommended wherever feasible.
SCHOOL SPORTS, CLUBS ALLOWED
As part of the administration’s plan, school sports and clubs are permitted to resume in September.
Cohorts can interact with each other, with social distancing encouraged, during these times.
For inter-school sports, high-contact activities are only permitted outdoors and masks are not required.
Low-contact activities are allowed indoors. The government states masking is recommended but not required indoors if a minimum distance of two metres is maintained between students who are not part of the same classroom cohort.
Music programs are also allowed in areas with adequate ventilation, such as outdoors or in a gym. This is inclusive of singing and playing wind instruments.
Moore told reporters,
“We absolutely understand the risk of aerosolization, but communities keep their risk low, their immunization rates high, everyone screens appropriately on a daily basis. These are risks that I think we should take because they are small risks.”
“We can never eliminate the risk completely. We have to balance our social, mental, physical well being and I think music is important to all children.”
ARE SNOW DAYS BEING CANCELLED?
The administration said that school boards must put in place an inclement weather program that includes switching to remote learning on days when students can’t come to the classroom.
This plan will also pertain to days where it is too hot for students to attend school.
Meanwhile, there will be zero capacity restrictions on school buses or other vehicles.
Masks are a must at all times when on the bus and students will be provided with assigned seating.
Vehicles for elementary schools should operate at a limited capacity where possible, the government notes.
DEALING WITH OUTBREAKS
The administration says the section in the back-to-school program about overseeing cases and outbreaks in schools is still “forthcoming,” however, will build on the previous school year.
Last month, Moore revealed that unvaccinated students would face different quarantine requirements if they are exposed to a positive case.
Since April, students in Ontario have not been learning in person and that was when the third wave was spiralling out of control in the region.
As cases plummeted, Ford decided to reopen the economy before permitting students to return to class.