September will mean back to school — but not back to normal — for students in Ontario. And one area that will see big changes amid the coronavirus pandemic is how schools deliver gym and music classes, according to a plan the province released Thursday.
One education expert and former school teacher said those areas of instruction are very important to many students — and the issue presents a lot of questions.
“How do you teach these physically-contacted subjects like gym or music and do them in a way where you continually social distance?,” said Jessica Rizk, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo’s department of sociology.
“I think those are going to be huge questions that the schools and admins need to deal with.”
Here’s what the province has said so far on how the instruction will occur when most schools reopen as of Sept. 8.
Physical education and organized sports
The school reopening plan states that schools should try to meet the requirements of the physical education curriculum with outdoor instruction wherever possible. Gyms should only be used if physical distancing can be respected, and schools should limit capacity of change rooms.
Use of shared equipment — things like balls and gloves, for example — should be limited, and that equipment should be regularly disinfected. Hand washing is recommended before and after physical activity.
The guidance also points educators to resources from the national and provincial physical education associations on how to teach gym while observing public health guidelines.
Physical and Health Education Canada suggests, for example, that teachers leave gymnasium doors open to maximize airflow.
While students in grades 8 and below are back in the classroom, high school students in many districts will be doing a combination of in-class and remote learning.
The province has not said how gym class would work for online learners. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education referred Global News to the province’s full reopening guide but did not respond to a follow-up question on Thursday.
Organized sports are being permitted, as long as physical distancing can occur and equipment and spaces are disinfected.
Gym is important to a student’s physical and mental well-being, Rizk said.
“I hope that … the report that came out today is just sort of one stepping stone towards really thinking about how to deliver these subjects in a way that will be meaningful and safe to students,” she said.
The expectations of the music curriculum can largely be met “without the use of instruments,” the province noted. But the plan doesn’t ban their use.
“A variety of delivery options may be considered to meet the music curriculum’s overall expectations, which could include fully distanced learning, in-person teaching and instruction with lower-risk creative performance opportunities (e.g., in-school instruction in larger spaces, restricting the type of instruments in a group setting) or in-person teaching and instruction with no live performance,” the document states.
The province referenced a resource provided by the Ontario Music Educators’ Association with suggestions on how to teach the subject while limiting risk.
That report states, for example, that singers should be two metres apart and face forward rather than facing each other or practicing in a circle.
As with gym, Rizk said if quality of instruction declines in the arts, the level of engagement some children have with their schooling overall could decrease.
“For some students, especially those who thrive on physical activity and art, I mean that’s where they get their sense of self from,” Rizk said.
The government’s plan did not specifically address how visual art classes would be conducted but mentioned art supplies on a list of examples of items that schools should take sanitary precautions with.
For students looking to enrol in a work-term to satisfy co-op program requirements, placements should be offered virtually where feasible, the guidelines state.
In-person co-op education may be allowed, depending on whether it’s safe to do so.
Field trips, dances and assemblies
Schools are being told not to set up field trips for now, though that could change depending on the data from public health.
Part of the province’s plan is to limit the amount of contact students have with other students — bell times are staggered, for example. So school assemblies “should be avoided,” along with concerts and dances. The document states that schools should offer virtual options instead.
Overview: Ontario’s school reopening plan in brief
Ontario’s school reopening plan is based on science and the best available advice from health experts, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.
“When it comes to keeping our kids safe, I won’t take any unnecessary risks,” he said.
While classrooms will be open five days a week for those in grades eight and below, many high school students will be operating under a hybrid online/classroom model where they are in school physically at least half of the time.
Twenty-four secondary school districts — including those in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas — will be operating with class cohorts of approximately 15 students, on alternating schedules. Other high schools will hold classes five days a week.
Parents, however, get a choice as to whether they want to send their kids to class or opt for remote instruction.
There are also equity issues to consider when it comes to online learning, since all students may not have access to a reliable internet connection and computer, Rizk said.
Those in Grade 4 and up will be required to wear a mask at all times while on school property. For younger students, masks are encouraged but not mandatory. Nurses will be embedded in schools to conduct testing, surveillance and treatment.
The government has earmarked $309 million for personal protective equipment, up to 500 public health nurses, coronavirus testing, janitorial staff and cleaning, additional teachers, mental health supports and other initiatives.
Teachers’ unions said the funding wasn’t nearly enough.
“While the announcement of new funding is welcome, it’s quite clear that the Ford government isn’t willing to pay the full cost of ensuring the safety of students and educators in September,” said Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond in a statement.
“The premier promised Ontarians that he ‘will spare no expense’ to keep people safe, yet he and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are betraying that promise to students, educators, parents and communities with this ill-prepared plan.”