Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced in Whitby today the re-opening of most Ontario schools for a five day a week, five hour a day of regular learning commencing Sept. 8.
The event, held at a Catholic secondary school, was a who’s who of the provincial Conservative Party with local MPP Laurie Scott joining in for the announcement. Durham Catholic trustees were invited and were in attendance, but no teaching staff or support staff were present for this crucial announcement.
“We will return to school in the safest possible manner,” the premier promised.
“We have balanced the risk to student’s emotional and mental health versus the threat of COVID and we believe students will benefit from the predictability, guidance and routine of school,” the premier added.
The premier shared that masks will be mandatory from Grades 4-12, high school students will be cohorted into small learning groups in designated high risk boards to reduce contacts with others and school buses will receive more regular cleaning.
“We will be spending an additional $309 million,” Ford shared, “and that will include the hiring of 500 new public health nurses who will be embedded in our schools and 900 new custodians who will help keep our schools clean.”
“Our children belong in school,” the premier concluded passing the podium to the education minister for Lecce’s prepared remarks.
“Elementary schools and child care centres will be open for business September 8 right across the province,” the education minister announced.
“High schools will be offering a hybrid program of in- class and online instruction in high risk designated areas (large urban boards like Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex who are still transitioning to Level Three in the provincial re-opening plan) and at other low risk high schools(largely rural) everyone will be back to school,” Lecce postulated.
The Trillium Lakeland District School Board is a non-designated board. There is an expectation by the province of daily attendance by all high school students at the pre-COVID class sizes.
For students who will be learning at least part of the time online, Lecce promised “live online learning with real teachers” lockstep with what was going on in brick and mortar schools.
“This is crucial to allow parents to return to work.”
He said students with special needs “will be at school five days a week five hours a day regardless of where they are in the province, receiving the assistance and structure that they require and need.”
“Parental choice remains paramount, and ultimately moms and dads will have final say in September,” Lecce concluded, “but we have pulled out all the stops for our students.”
The Trillium Lakelands Board of Education announced this morning that they will be rolling out their own plan for re-opening next Tuesday August 4 at a special meeting of the board with new director of education, Wes Hahn.
Immediate reaction from CUPE, ETFO, OECTA and OSSTF representing close to 200,000 educational workers across Ontario was swift.
“The Ford government is jeopardizing the safety of students, educators and all Ontarians by severely underfunding a safe return to school this September,” according to a release from Ontario’s four major education unions representing the province’s elementary and secondary teachers and education workers.
“This plan is an insult to every student, every parent and every educator in the province of Ontario,” said OSSTF/FEESO President Harvey Bischof.