Ontario schools likely to see mix of in-class, online learning in September

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce speaks at a daily briefing held at Queen's Park in Toronto. Jack Boland / Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

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TORONTO — Ontario students will likely return to school in September with a mix of in-class and remote learning, the government announced Friday, though boards will develop various scenarios, depending on how COVID-19 is spreading at that point.

Premier Doug Ford said that with different areas of the province at different stages of reopening, the same should apply to school boards, so there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach in schools.

But, parents provincewide will have the option of sending their children back to class or keeping them learning remotely, he said.

“This virus remains a threat and the health and safety of our children will always remain top of mind,” Ford said.

“If you don’t feel comfortable, if you’re worried about your child returning to school, we’ll keep at-home learning available for your child.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said boards are being asked to prepare plans for three scenarios: regular in-class instruction with public health protocols, fully remote learning, and a plan that blends the two approaches.

Lecce said he expects all students to start September with the blended model, which will see no more than 15 students in class, attending on alternating days or weeks.

Grand Erie District School Board staff will have operational plans and protocols in place for all three options by the end of July, said Brenda Blancher, director of education. She said the board will share specific details on Grand Erie’s back-to-school plans with students and families in August.

“As we’ve learned over the past few months with COVID-19, there are a lot of unknowns we have to work through together,” said Blancher. “We appreciate the ongoing patience and understanding of our students and families as our staff works through each of the options for back-to-school in the fall. As always, our priority will be the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”

Tracey Austin, manager of communications for the Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board, said they will use the ministry’s announcement to help inform the board’s plans for the new school year.

“It is important for us to hear from parents and have their voice included in those plans,” said Austin. “So, on Monday, we will be providing a message to families from our chair of the board, Rick Petrella, and director of education, Mike McDonald, as well as a parent survey to collect their thoughts on re-opening.”

Students in class will interact only with their classmates and a single teacher. That will keep close contact to a minimum, while still allowing students to interact with some other students, Lecce said.

That blended model will be evaluated after September, and if public health trends are heading in the right direction, boards could move closer to more conventional schooling.

Schools across the province have been closed since March 13, when the government moved to shut down much of Ontario to address the spread of COVID-19.

A report released this week by medical experts from Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital said children are not the super-spreaders of COVID-19 that experts initially believed they would be.

Guidelines on reopening provided by those experts to the province include extra hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and ventilation, and taking classes outdoors when possible — but not requiring masks for kids or discouraging close play.

Blancher said Grand Erie’s school-year calendar for 2020-21 has not yet been approved by the Ministry of Education. Currently, the first day of school is set for Tuesday, Sept. 8.

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