By Sue Tiffin
When the school bell rings in September students in Haliburton County will be able to head back full time.
After weeks of parents fretting going over three options the provincialgovernment had recommended for public schools – full-time learningdistance learning or a hybrid of the two – on July 30 the provinceannounced back-to-school plans for this September.
Under the planlocal schools would join other public schools in the province inreopening Sept. 8 and elementary and high school students in Haliburton County can attend five days a week.
“Elementary schools(kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen province-wide with in-classinstruction five days a week” reads a press release from the provincial government. “Secondary schools with lower risk will reopen with anormal daily schedule five days a week while most secondary schoolswill start the school year in an adapted model of part-time attendancewith class cohorts of up to 15 students alternating between attending in-person and online. Students from Grade 4 to 12 and school staff will be required to wear masks.” Masks for students in younger grades willbe optional.
“It’s been hard on families to balance work and childcare while kids have been separated from friends and other kids theirown age” said Premier Doug Ford in the press release. “We want to getour kids back to school but it has to be done safely. That’s why we’veworked with our public health experts Ontario Health and the medicalexperts at SickKids to develop a plan that ensures students can returnto the classroom five days a week in a way that protects the health andsafety of our children teachers and school staff.”
According tothe press release “Parents will continue to have the option to enrolltheir children in remote delivery which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with theirchildren returning to school.”
The provincial government also announced it will spend $300 million on additional public health protocols including:
$60 million in procurement of medical and cloth masks for students andstaff with direction to boards to ensure that students who cannotafford a mask are provided one;
$30 million for teacher staffing to support supervision keeping classes small and other safety related measures;
$50 million to hire up to 500 additional school-focused nurses in publichealth units to provide rapid-response support to schools and boards infacilitating public health and preventative measures includingscreening testing tracing and mitigation strategies;
Over $23 million to provide testing capacity to help keep schools safe;
$75 million in funding to hire over 900 additional custodians and purchase cleaning supplies for schools;
$40 million to clean school buses to ensure that students are in a thoroughly cleaned transportation environment;
$10 million for health and safety training for occasional teachers whohave historically not been covered by professional development that isoffered to permanent teachers;
$10 million to support special needs students in the classroom; and
$10 million to support student mental health.
“This funding is in addition to a $25 million investment in mental health and technology which will see an additional $10 million dedicated tomental health staff resources and programs as well as $15 million intechnology funding to support the procurement of over 35000 devices for Ontario’s students to support their synchronous learning in-school andbeyond” reads the press release.
Ford was joined by ChristineElliott deputy premier and minister of health; Stephen Lecce minister of education; and Dr. Barbara Yaffe associate chief medical officer of health for the announcement.
“This plan reflects the best medicaland scientific advice with a single aim: to keep your child safe” saidLecce in the press release. “While this plan will continue to evolve torespond to the changing threat of COVID-19 we will remain constant andconsistent in investing in the resources staffing and cleaningsupports and strict health and safety protocols to keep our communities and our classrooms safe.”
TLDSB communicating with parents students ahead of school start
Trillium Lakelands District School Board said after the announcement that “TLDSB senior administrators will be reviewing the details of the ministry’sdirective over the next several days and including any additionalprotocols into our planning.”
TLDSB said all students mustre-register for school and will receive an email with a link to a formasking to pre-register for in-person and at-home learning at whichpoint a “program will be developed with enhanced public health protocols in place.” Any changes from at-school or at-home learning choices willtake time to implement once the school year has begun.
Parents willalso have to register for board-provided transportation and those whoopt out will not be able to opt back in until the second semester inFebruary.
“TLDSB schools will be ready to welcome students onSeptember 8” reads the board’s return to school webpage.“Administrators have been preparing for a return to school for severalweeks with the health and well-being of our students as our mainpriority.”
“At this point in time there are still many items toconsider as we finalize our plans” reads the board website. “We areworking with our local public health units to review our plans to ensure we have included the most current safe practices during a pandemic.”
Each family will receive a link to a student/family re-entry guidebook inAugust and a printed copy of the guidebook in September which willprovide details about returning to school during a pandemic.
“Families will need to be prepared for a change in the current plan from theMinistry of Education and public health based on any emerging COVID-19pandemic issues” reads the TLDSB site.
ETFO says restaurants grocery stores and gyms have more safety restrictions
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario which represents 83000elementary public school teachers occasional teachers and educationprofessionals responded to the announcement later that afternoonnoting that “while educators want to be back with their students thisfall the government’s plan for a return to school falls far sort ofensuring the safety of public elementary students and educators.”
“Schools are supposed to be safe places for children. This plan does notadequately address the safety of students or staff” said Sam Hammondpresident of ETFO. “Restaurants grocery stores and gyms will have moresafety restrictions in place than elementary schools given theinsufficient funding allocated in this plan … The successful advocacyand organizing of parents educators and others has forced thegovernment to add some additional investment to the reopening of schools in September. While it’s a step in the right direction the funding tosupport the plan falls far short of what schools need to keep studentsand educators safe in September.”
ETFO’s press release said theteachers’ union is concerned the government is not reducing elementaryclass sizes to allow for two-metre physical distancing nor requiringstudents in kindergarten to Grade 3 to wear masks.
“Two-metrephysical distancing and mask wearing have been required for indooractivities across the province. COVID-19 does not distinguish between agrocery store and a classroom between a coffee shop or schoolhallways” reads the press release. “Kindergarten to Grade 3 studentsare more active and have less self-regulation and this will makephysical distancing more difficult. That’s why smaller classes and maskrequirements for all students are necessary to ensure the safety andhealth of everyone in elementary schools.”
Chief Medical Officer of Health said school expected to be safe amid declining cases
The government’s announcement came on the second consecutive day of the province reporting fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19.
“Thank you Ontario” tweeted Lecce just before the announcement. “Because ofour collective vigilance and sacrifice to #StopTheSpread students cansafely return to school this September. Now more than ever let’s notlet our guard down!”
“Based on the current data we are seeing thatoverall instances of COVID-19 are declining in Ontario” said Dr. DavidWilliams chief medical officer of health. “When considering the healthof the whole child and as long as this trend continues we believe that with the appropriate measures and strategies in place to handlepotential outbreaks and prevent spread schools are expected to be asafe place for Ontario’s students and staff who attend in person. Wewill continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety ofstudents and staff and will be prepared to transition to alternativeoptions should circumstances change.”
The government had previouslyasked school boards to develop plans that are due to the Ministry ofEducation by Aug. 4. The plans were to address three models:conventional delivery adapted instruction and remote instruction withsynchronous learning.
“As the public health situation unfolds through the course of the school year boards will continue to rely on thesethree models to respond nimbly and pragmatically to local public healthdynamics” reads the press release.
The ministry’s Learn at Homeprogram launched March 20 after March Break when students did not return to school due to provincial emergency shelter in place orders andschool closures.
Prior to the announcement the Trillium LakelandsDistrict School Board shared plans for a special meeting of the boardwhich was held Aug. 4. A story about that meeting will be published inthe Times next week.
Daycares permitted to open at full capacity Sept. 1
Also on July 30 the province announced plans to “gradually and safelyreopen child care for working parents” according to a press releasenoting a reopening to full capacity being possible on Sept. 1.
“Weare helping more moms and dads return to work as Ontario’s economy getsback on track” said Lecce in a tweet on July 30. “Starting Sept. 1child care centres and EarlyON Child and Family Centres can open at full capacity while maintaining strict & enhanced health and safetyprotocols.”
The government said safety procedures put in place aspart of the reopening plan were still in effect “and in some instances strengthened to protect children staff and families” including
Requiring all child care staff to wear masks at all times effective Sept. 1;
Ensuring frequent cleaning of child care centres;
Screening of children and staff before entering a childcare facility;
Maintaining attendance records for rigorous contact tracing and coordination with local public health authorities;
Ensuring frequent hand washing and proper hand hygiene for children and staff; and
Establishing clear and rigid case management protocols in the event a staff memberor child becomes ill or tests positive for COVID-19.
According to apress release the province will also be providing additional fundingwith support from the federal government through the Safe RestartAgreement to help child care providers and centres purchase cleaningsupplies PPE and support staffing needs related to new procedures.
Province’s Phase 3 in second week
Phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan began July 17 and July 24 for mosthealth unit jurisdictions in Ontario with Toronto and Peel regionsentering the stage July 31. Windsor-Essex is the only region in theprovince still in Phase 2. Phase 3 allows for indoor dining atrestaurants the reopening of movie theatres playgrounds and livetheatre shows and larger gatherings of people both outdoors and indoors with physical distancing measures still in place.
As of July 31the province has reported 39075 positive COVID-19 cases with 34906 of those cases resolved. A total of 2772 deaths have been reported 1793 of those deaths reported for residents in long-term care homes andeight being health-care workers in long-term care homes. Just more than11000 of the cases have been reported in both the 20 to 39 agedemographic and 40 to 59 age demographic just more than 7000 caseshave been reported in the 60 to 79 age demographic just more than 6000 in the 80 and over age demographic and 2205 cases have been reportedin the 19 and under age demographic.
In Haliburton County 13 cases of COVID-19 have been reported since March with 12 cases resolved as of press time.