While students, teachers and staff return to school, the provincial government has laid out a number of protocols and allocated funding to support the education system during this challenging time.
The Ontario government has provided up to $1.3 billion in critical support and has delivered more than 37 million pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) to help safely reopen classrooms across the province. These investments are part of Ontario’s comprehensive back to school plan, which was developed in consultation with medical experts, school boards and educators.
“Our entire team has been working around the clock over the last few weeks to make sure all of the public health measures are in place to safely welcome back our students and staff,” said Premier Doug Ford. “This school year will be unlike any we have ever seen, but by working together, we can all play a part to keep our children, teachers and education workers safe and ensure our students continue to thrive and be inspired to learn during these extraordinary times.”
The funding has been allocated to support the following measures:
- hiring more teachers to keep class sizes small;
- purchasing personal protective equipment for staff and students;
- hiring over 600 public health nurses to monitor for COVID-19 in schools;
- providing COVID-19 testing;
- hiring up to 1,300 additional custodians and purchasing cleaning supplies;
- enhancing cleaning and safety measures for student transportation;
- providing health and safety training for occasional teachers and education workers;
- supporting students with special needs and providing mental health supports;
- improving ventilation, air quality and HVAC system effectiveness in schools;
- hiring additional principals, vice-principals and administrative staffing supports;
- purchasing approximately 30,000 technological devices for students;
- aiding the school bus driver retention strategy;
- supporting school boards that do not have sufficient reserves to promote equitable school reopening plans province-wide;
- supporting the local priorities of each school board, based on their immediate needs for the start and early weeks of school. This particular investment will allow school boards to fund up to two percent of their operating budget from school reserve funds.
“Our plan is the most cautious, safe and comprehensive in the country, fully funded and fully informed by leading medical leaders to ensure we reduce the risk, support positive mental health and improve the safety of all students and staff,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “I remain inspired by our students and we owe it to them to continue to do our part to stop the spread in our communities to ensure schools can remain safe and positive learning spaces.”
The following public health protocols and procedures will be implemented to help protect students, teachers, staff and visitors:
- Parents must screen their children and all staff must self-screen every day before attending school. Students and staff who are unwell must stay home from school.
- Schools must immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the school to the local public health unit. Every day, school boards must report any staff or student absences due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the ministry.
- Students in Grades 4-12 will be required to wear face coverings (non-medical or cloth masks) while indoors. This includes in hallways, entrances and during classes. Face coverings are not required but are encouraged for students up to Grade 3. The province is funding each school board to provide PPE to teachers and other school-based staff, including medical masks and eye protection.
- Schools will teach and remind students about appropriate hand hygiene and provide breaks in schedules to allow students to wash their hands. Teachers and staff are also receiving additional health and safety training.
- Each student will be kept with the same group of children and teachers as much as possible throughout the school day.
- Schools will significantly limit visitors, including parents.
- Schools will keep rigorous daily class attendance records, seating charts, lists of bussed students and approved daily visitors for contact-tracing purposes.
“With the new school year beginning, the health and safety of students, teachers and staff is our government’s top priority,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “We have been working closely with our public health experts and making the necessary investments to ensure safety measures and protocols are in place for returning to the classroom.”
Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services, is confident that the government’s support will ensure that this school year will be a safe and effective one despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our government’s top priority is to ensure students, teachers and staff have what they need to stay safe when they return to school,” said Thompson. “By leveraging our government’s collective buying power and introducing new domestic sources of supply, we were able to successfully secure sufficient supplies to support the safe reopening of over 4,800 schools and over 5,000 child care facilities this fall.”
A comprehensive breakdown of the allocation of funding and more information about what the provincial government is doing to support the education sector can be found at www.ontario.ca.