Schools in Ontario will remain closed until at least early May as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Effective immediately, we have extended the order to close publicly funded schools until at least May 1st for teachers and May 4th for students. We’ve also extended the closure of private schools and child-care centres for another two weeks,” Ford said.
The closures for private schools and daycares were extended by only two weeks as that order comes under the provincial state of emergency declaration, which is effective in two-week increments.
“As I’ve told you before, the situation continues to change day by day, hour by hour, and in order to protect our children, I’m prepared to extend these closures even further if we have to,” Ford said.
“We’re working closely with the school boards to find ways to help students complete the school year so they can advance to the next year and earn credits and graduate.”
Earlier in March, Lecce ordered that all schools close for two weeks following March break, with a return date of April 6.
On March 23, Ford said the April 6 date was “not realistic” and added that more information about the school year would be coming from the government in the coming days.
Online learning plan unveiled
In addition to extending the school closures, Lecce announced a new teacher-led online learning program for students.
“With Phase 2 of learn at home, we’re laying out a new set of expectations that parents and students can count on, including first and foremost, reconnecting students with teachers and other school staff, including mental health workers,” Lecce said.
Lecce said the program will include graded work and report cards for all students.
“Students can and will continue to complete credits underway,” Lecce said, adding that those who are looking to graduate will still be able to.
“We’re embracing all forms of student-teacher connectivity based on the student’s access to technology, meaning one way or another, by printed materials or tablet, every child should and will be able to continue learning through the curriculum supported by their teacher.”
Lecce said laptops and other electronic devices are being distributed as needed in partnership with boards of education and added that the government is working with telecommunication partners “to get technology to those that need it.”
A virtual learning training program is also being developed for educators, officials said.
Depending on a student’s grade, they can expect different workloads:
- Kindergarten to Grade 3: five hours per week
- Grades 4 to 6: five hours per week
- Grades 7 and 8: 10 hours per week
- Grades 9 to 12: three hours per course per week for semestered students and 1.5 hours per course per week for non-semestered students
Lecce said there will be additional supports for special education students.
“We know a lot of these supports are designed for in-person instruction, but we will do whatever it takes to help your child, even if it means non-traditional methods of delivery,” Lecce said.
Lecce added that officials will salvage part of the school year if it’s possible, based on the advice of the chief medical officer, but “only if it is safe” to do so.
New funding for post-secondary institutions
Meanwhile, the provincial government announced Tuesday that it will be distributing $25 million to publicly assisted colleges, universities and Indigenous Institutes to help address COVID-19-related needs as they see fit.
The government also said it has reached an agreement with eCampusOntario to provide post-secondary institutions with online resources needed “to conduct year-end assessments, while preserving student privacy and the integrity of academic assessment.”
“Students can now conduct their examinations and be graded online, which will allow continuity of academic success,” College and Universities Minister Ross Romano said.
Ontario Student Assistance Program payments have also been given a six-month, interest-free moratorium until Sept. 30. Those who still can make payments are able to do so.
Ford was asked in Tuesday’s press conference if there would be assistance for students who are unable to get a summer job but need to pay for their tuition in the fall.
“There’s tens of thousands of students that rely on that money, and a lot of those students are paying for their own education,” Ford said.
“I think it’s important that we come up with a program. It all depends on how this curve goes.”
Ford added that if the economy is able to start “opening up” again before the summer, there may not be the need for such a program.