As Ontario moves to Stage 3, Pressure Grows for Full-Time School Plans amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The Toronto District School Board says millions of dollars will be needed to ensure a safe return to school this fall

Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford announced that a majority of regions in Ontario would be heading into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening and recovery plan with numerous restrictions being loosened in the days to come. 

Along with Stage 3 reopening, restrictions on bars, restaurants, gyms, and local attractions will be loosened to allow them to resume serving customers indoors as early as Friday, July 17. 

The announcements for loosened restrictions gained the attention of Ontario parents, educators, and public health experts who are asking the government about its plan to get students back to school full-time for the start of the school year in September. 

The premier faced criticism over the province’s alleged focus on reopening places that promote the drinking of alcohol over-focusing on helping students get back to school. 

During a news conference on Tuesday, Premier Ford rejected the criticism reaffirming that he does not drink alcohol but he is worried about the businesses that own the bars which have been closed since March. 

“You’re talking to a guy that doesn’t even drink,” said Premier Ford during a news conference Tuesday in Cambridge, Ontario

“I’m worried about the businesses that own the bars.”

What Full-Time Education Could Be Like in September

In the middle of June, Education Minister Stephen Lecce had told the school boards across Ontario to make plans for three different models of instruction for full-time education which is set to resume in the fall. 

The three different models as described by the Education Minister are: 

  • Full-time in-class teaching with COVID-19 prevention measures in place
  • Full-time remote learning
  • A hybrid that would see half the school population in class each day and a half learning online at home

Education Minister Stephen Lecce would then tell the school boards that he expects that schools would start the year with the hybrid model amid the growing concerns for a potential second wave of COVID-19. 

However, he would also add that school boards may decide on which model of the three to use with the consultation of public health units in the region based on the local risk of infection at the time. 

“To be responsive to the risk … we have to plan for all three circumstances,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce told the legislature on Tuesday. 

“The preference is conventional day-to-day delivery.”

Further expressing his support for full-time education resuming in the fall, Premier Doug Ford emphasized that Ontario has to be ready for all scenarios.

“We have to be prepared for all scenarios,” said the Premier on Tuesday. 

“But our goal is to get every single child back in the classroom.”

What Needs to Be Done for Classes to Resume in September

According to Amy Greer, an infectious Disease Epidemiologist at the University of Guelph, strong health measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission needs to be “our top priority” when it comes to providing Ontario students with full-time in-class instruction in the fall. 

“If we want students to be able to come back to school full-time, we need to be able to spread them out,” said the University of Guelph Epidemiologist.

“We can’t do that in our current school infrastructure. It would require additional resources. It will require more space.”

To make this happen, Greer says that the government must provide more support and better guidance to the school boards in Ontario. 

This appears to be the case as the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has recently reported that it will need millions in funding to ensure the safe return to school in the fall. 

While the TDSB says it will be submitting the final plans to the Ministry of Education on August 4, early cost estimates for some proposed plans for education in the fall could cost as much as $250 million. 

The Toronto based school board will be hosting a meeting today to hold preliminary discussions about what the scenarios laid out by the Education Minister could mean for the board as well as how much it may cost.

According to a planning document from the TDSB, if elementary students were grouped in sets of 15 students with one teacher, 2,500 additional teachers would need to be hired which was estimated to cost the school board $249 million. 

However, the school board stated that if the school day were to end 48 minutes earlier than usual, the costs would be reduced to $99 million. 

The issue that arises from the latter scenario is that the TDSB has said that there would not be enough teachers to offer core French-language education to all students.

With all this in mind, it appears that the provincial government and the school boards both have safety in mind as the most important point to consider for any kind of return to school. 

“We have been actively planning for our return considering all possibilities ensuring that student and staff well-being and safety is the priority,” said the TDSB.

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