The Ontario government is considering three possible scenarios for the resumption of classes in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic, though the education minister says he expects students to enter an “adaptive” model with some online learning.
Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement Friday.
“We are taking every precaution, investing more, and listening to the best medical advice in the country to keep students, staff, and families safe,” Lecce said.
“I want to assure parents, safety is our guiding principle and the right supports are being put in place to ensure our students are set up for success.”
The plans include a full return to in-school learning, a scenario where students remain at home with online learning, and a hybrid model, which Lecce said is the most likely option.
School boards throughout the province are being asked to be prepared with a plan for each scenario depending on how the novel coronavirus is spreading. Learning formats may be adjusted as the situation with COVID-19 evolves, Lecce said.
In a hybrid scenario, there would be a limit on 15 students in each classroom and timetabling to ensure students remain in contact with only their classmates and one teacher. Students would also alternate attendance on different days or weeks.
Parents will be given the option to keep their children home within an online learning model if they want.
In-class options include strict health and safety guidelines which boards will need to adhere to, including staff in some scenarios wearing masks. Officials also confirmed that exact plans may differ from region to region based on local circumstances. A final decision on the fall is not planned to be made public until early August, a source confirmed.
“One explanation for delaying could be that they plan to shuffle cabinet soon and want the new minister to make the announcement,” a party source said.
“Parents are anxious to get details about reopening schools, but so are employers. The economy can’t truly reopen until workers know their kids will be back to school,” the source added.
“The longer they wait, the more anxious and frustrated people will be. This delay risks burning the good will the Ford government has gained for their strong handling during the crisis.”
Educators are also worried.
An elementary teacher with the TDSB not authorized to speak publicly said Friday, “The ministry has not communicated to us what a plan will look like, and if Minister Lecce does not do that, he is breaking his promise to parents, students and educators.”
The educator also expressed concern about the ability to plan for students in the fall.
“We have no idea what context we need to be planning for which leads to uncertainty for everyone.”
Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation President Harvey Bischof echoed that concern Friday.
“The plans are very vague and won’t give certainty or comfort to parents or educators at this point,” he said. “We continue to urge Minister Lecce to consult with the voice of front-line educators as we move toward September implementation.”
School boards are required to submit plans to the government by Aug. 4, have it reviewed, and then communicate finalized plans to parents by the start of the school year.
The government also announced increased funding for school boards across the province as they work to make adjustments for the school year.
Schools across Ontario have been closed since March 13, when the government moved to shut down much of the province to address the spread of COVID-19.
The school year has continued with remote learning since then, and Lecce had promised a plan for a safe September reopening by the end June.
A report released this week by medical experts from Toronto’s SickKids Hospital said children are not the super-spreaders of COVID-19 they initially believed they would be.
Guidelines on reopening provided by those experts to the province include extra hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and ventilation, and taking classes outdoors when possible — but not requiring masks for kids or discouraging close play.
More regions of Ontario are moving into the second stage of the province’s reopening plan Friday, including parts of the Greater Toronto Area.
—With files from The Canadian Press