Across the Riding of Huron-Bruce, and indeed, across the province, parents are asking questions about having their children return to school in September. ‘Will it be safe?’ ‘Is there a plan?’ ‘Is the government providing additional funding for all the extra expenses?’ ‘Are there alternatives?’
To all of these questions I want to ensure you that the answer is a resounding ‘YES!’
The health and well-being of our students and school staff always has been the primary focus of this plan. That is why we are providing school boards with unprecedented resources and flexibility, while accommodating regional differences in trends of key public health indicators. This plan was developed in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the provincial COVID-19 Command Table and paediatric experts. I am pleased to share that our local school boards are working very closely with our Medical Officers of Health as well.
The Ontario government is providing more than half a billion dollars in supports to school boards to ensure schools will reopen safely in September. These supports will enable school boards to provide more physical distancing in classrooms and direct funding to utilize non-school community spaces, and will allow boards to make adjustments based on their own local needs.
The initiatives include:
· $60 million in procurement of medical and cloth masks for students and staff, with direction to boards to ensure that students who cannot afford 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 public health units to provide rapid-response support to schools and boards in facilitating public health and preventative measures, including screening, 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, who have historically not been covered by professional development that is offered 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 to mental health staff, resources, and programs, as well as $15 million in technology funding to support the procurement of over 35,000 devices for Ontario’s students to support their synchronous learning in-school and beyond.
Elementary schools (Kindergarten to Grade 8) will reopen province-wide, with in-class instruction five days a week. Secondary schools will reopen with a normal daily schedule, five days a week, while most secondary schools will start the school year in an adapted model of part-time attendance with class cohorts of up to 15 students alternating between attending in-person and online.
Students from Grade 4-12 and school staff will be required to wear masks, but we respect the final decision of school boards if they choose to broaden that directive to the younger classes.
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.
This is a living plan that can change and is adaptable to different public health situations and it is based on the rigorous and data-informed guidance of leading medical, epidemiological, and paediatric leaders in the province.
In the event of positive cases of COVID-19 among students, parents, teachers, or other staff, these protocols will enable immediate action by health and education sector officials to identify, track, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the education system. Every school board will have communication protocols in place to keep families informed.
These are challenging and uncertain times, but I am very encouraged by how Huron-Bruce residents, businesses, and organizations alike have responded to this pandemic. I appreciate everyone’s comments and input. We will do whatever it takes to ensure your children and their teachers and all school staff will be safe.
As always, I welcome your concerns and comments. Please call my offices – 519-396-3007(Kincardine) or 519-523-4251 (Blyth) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.