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Ontario students returning to school in September

Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced yesterday that Ontario's 2 million students will be heading back to school in September. Elementary school students across the province from kindergarten to Grade 8 will be attending class five days per week. But most secondary school students will be following the adapted part-time attendance model, and will be assigned a cohort of 15 and receive on-line education and in-class instruction on alternate days. Secondary schools with smaller populations and lower risk can also operate on a five-day schedule.

"It's been hard on families to balance work and child care, while kids have been separated from friends and other kids their own age. We want to get our kids back to school, but it has to be done safely," said Premier Ford. "That's why we've worked with our public health experts, Ontario Health and the medical experts at SickKids to develop a plan that ensures students can return to the classroom five days a week, in a way that protects the health and safety of our children, teachers, and school staff."

Masks will be required for staff and students from grades 4-12, but exemptions may be made at the discretion of the individual school boards. Parents who choose to not send their children back will be able to opt out. According to the press release, “Parents will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery, which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school.”

$300 million has been earmarked towards the implementation of the enhanced public safety protocols. Included in that figure are $60 million for the procurement of medical and cloth masks, $50 million to hire up to 500 additional school-focused nurses to support rapid response initiatives to boards implementing public health measures including screening, testing and tracing strategies, and an additional $40 million to clean school buses. $10 million has been set aside to support special needs students, and another $10 million to support student mental health.

Ontario Teachers' unions were quick to oppose the government's plan. A joint statement from the four major teachers' unions in the province criticized the government for failing to provide enough money to assure the safety of students and staff. According to Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, “This plan is an insult to every student, every parent and every educator in the province of Ontario.”

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