Preparing for Back to School

Published on September 08, 2020

Preparing for Back to School

By: Christine Hogarth, MPP Etobicoke - Lakeshore

We all have a stake in ensuring our children and teachers are safe when they return to school. As a stepmom with a daughter starting grade 11, I understand your anxiety. COVID-19 has not been easy on any of us, including our children. Our children need and deserve the opportunity to go back to school. This is why our government, along with health care officials, school boards and educators have worked closely together to develop a comprehensive back-to-school plan.

To support the plan, our government has made significant investments to promote physical distancing measures, provide PPE for every teacher, adopt enhanced cleaning protocols and hire more teachers, nurses and custodians.

We have all had our lives altered by COVID-19 – the way we grocery shop, take transit and visit friends and family have all changed. Our children will also be experiencing a different school year, but I am confident our school boards and our educators are prepared with protocols in place to prevent and minimize outbreaks. To assist, we have appointed Dr. Dirk Huyer, a well-regarded medical professional, as Coordinator, Provincial Outbreak Response for Ontario to lead the province's efforts to prevent and minimize COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of sectors, including the education, child care, agriculture, and health care sectors.

Always remember, we all have a responsibility to continue to do our part and follow public health advice to reduce the spread and mitigate the risk of transmission in our communities so that our children can go to school safely. As you prepare to send your children back to school, here are some things you should know:

  1. All staff and students must self-screen every day before attending school. Unwell students and staff must stay home. We encourage parents to use the Ontario Government’s Self Assessment tool available at Ontario.ca.
  2. Schools must immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the local public health unit. Every day school boards must report suspected and confirmed cases to the Ministry of Education.
  3. Students in Grades 4-12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school. Face coverings are not required but are encouraged for students up to Grade 3. The province is providing each school board funding to hire supply teachers and other school-based staff.
  4. Schools will teach students appropriate hand hygiene and provide breaks in schedules to allow students to wash their hands. Teachers and staff will also receive additional health and safety training.
  5. Each student will be kept with the same group of children and teachers as much as possible throughout the school day. Additional teachers are being hired to support supervision.
  6. Up to 625 new public health nurses are being hired to provide rapid-response support to schools and boards, and facilitate public health and preventative measures, including screening, testing, tracing and mitigation strategies.
  7. Up to 1,300 custodians are being hired and cleaning supplies provided to ensure each school is thoroughly cleaned throughout the day. School buses are also being cleaned regularly.
  8. Schools will significantly limit visitors, including parents.
  9. Schools will keep class attendance records, seating charts, lists of bused students, and approved daily visitors (e.g. supply and occasional teachers, custodians) for contact-tracing purposes.
  10. Parental choice will be respected. In-person attendance is optional for both elementary and secondary students for the 2020-2021 school year.

One of the lessons learned over the past few months is that our understanding of COVID19 continues to evolve. As a result, our government’s back-to-school plan also continues to evolve under the advisement of medical professionals. Our government will make adjustments, adopt best practices and do whatever it takes to keep our children and staff safe and healthy. This is our top priority. Please know, if necessary, the government will not hesitate to close down a school.

Together, with the cooperation of medical professionals, school staff, educators and you, the parents, we will get through this challenge and our children, our education system and our province will be stronger for it.

For more information, please visit Ontario.ca/ReopeningSchools.