Regular school day for most in September; additional safeguards in place

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announces the plan to reopen schools in September on Thursday, July 30, 2020. Lecce says parents will still have a choice whether to send their children to school or have at-home learning. (Premier of Ontario/YouTube via Newswatch Group)

EASTERN ONTARIO – All elementary and most high school students in Eastern Ontario will be going to school five days a week, starting in September.

The majority of students will have to wear masks while in school under Ministry of Education guidelines, the province announced Thursday.

Students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical masks while in school. Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to wear them, but not required.

Medical masks will be provided for teachers and staff.

Kindergarten to Grade 8 students will be in school five days a week in one classroom group and one teacher for the entire day, including recesses and lunch.

The ministry also expects school boards to have cohorts, enforce social distancing and limit visitors to schools to limit the spread of the coronavirus. That will include having classrooms set up with “unnecessary furniture” removed and all desks facing forward, instead of desks in clusters or in circles.

If a child develops COVID-19 symptoms they will be immediately isolated until they are able to go home. Parents will be required to screen their children for COVID-19 symptoms daily before sending their kids to school.

As for high schools, the Upper Canada District School Board and the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario are listed as “non-designated schools,” which will be allowed to open with daily attendance by students.

Because they include schools in Ottawa, the Eastern Ontario French Public and Catholic boards are “designated schools,” meaning timetabling for those high school students will be under an adaptive model. Students will be in groups of 15, going to class on alternate days. The goal is to have at least 50 per cent in-class instruction.

A ministry official noted that this likely won’t be for the entire school year. “We are not necessarily looking at this for the full duration of the school year. We are going to continue to work very closely with public health and continue to assess the designated and non-designated boards and to move to a more conventional model when it’s safe to do so,” the official said.

For both elementary and secondary school, ultimately, it will be up to parents whether to allow their children to attend this upcoming year. Remote learning will be available for those parents who don’t want to send their children to school. Teachers will be required to load online curriculum to an e-learning site by grade level.

With supplies and support, the government will be providing $309 million in new money to school boards to cover additional costs like personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies and PPE for busing, additional school staffing and cleaning supplies.

As for busing, a ministry official says school boards will have students in assigned seats on the bus, with preference to having siblings placed together. The assigned seats will help with contract tracing should there be a positive case. If possible, the seat behind the bus driver will be kept empty and bus drivers will be provided with masks and eye shields.