Province releases plan for students' return to school as Ontario reports 178 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has outlined the province's plan for students' return to school in September.

Ontario school boards to take regional approach on handling education in the fall, Ford says

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has said that students and their families should be prepared for a different kind of classroom experience in September. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has outlined the province's plan for students' return to school in September.

At a news conference Friday, Lecce said the province is tasking school boards across the province to prepare three separate plans for September:

  • A plan for regular in-class instruction with heightened health protocols.
  • The continuation of remote learning with more standardization. This would happen should school closures be extended, or if some parents choose not to send their child back to school, the province says.
  • An adapted delivery model, which blends in-class with online learning, which would see students alternating being in class by days or weeks.

Lecce said in that situation, class sizes wouldn't exceed 15 students in class at a time.

"We know kids need to be in class. We've heard this loud and clear … the mental health impacts are clear on our kids," Lecce said.

"We know the value of human connection."

The province said in a news release that these scenarios may need to be implemented in September "depending on the province's COVID-19 situation."

You can read the province's plan here. In it, officials say they will be "requesting guidance from public health or public health units by early August in order to confirm the type of delivery appropriate for the beginning of the school year."

The plan also notes that the return to school in September will be "voluntary and based on parent choice." 

"For parents who choose not to send their child back to school, school boards should be prepared to offer remote education. This requirement will be in place for as long as public health circumstances require adapted delivery of education."

The plan also says that school boards would need to consider providing students with high levels of special education needs the option of attending school every day.

Premier Doug Ford said that a regional approach is needed when it comes to schools, and boards should be making decisions based on "local needs.

"We simply can't provide a blanket solution for the whole province," Ford said.

Province promises increased funding

The province says its plan was created in consultation with the chief medical officer of health, health experts on the COVID-19 command table, medical experts at The Hospital for Sick Children, as well as frontline workers, parents and students.

It comes as the province announced that next year's annual per-student grant to school boards will be $12,525 — a two per cent, or $250 per student, increase over this academic year. The funding figure is key for the budgeting process for school boards.

Lecce said every school board in Ontario will see funding increases in areas like mental health, technology, enhanced cleaning and special education.

Students in Ontario have been out of the classroom since March 13, when the province's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 began to ramp up in earnest.

In-person classes were cancelled for the remainder of the current academic year last month, but Lecce said at the time that he intends for schools to reopen in the fall.

Earlier this week, a team of medical experts from Toronto's Sick Kids hospital endorsed a return to school for students and outlined several steps that the province should take in ensuring that children are safe in the classroom.

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.

178 new COVID-19 cases reported

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 178 additional cases of COVID-19 this morning, as the number of patients in hospital with confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus continues to drop.

The new cases mark a 0.5 per cent increase and bring the total number of confirmed cases in the province since the outbreak began in late January to 33,095. 

It's the sixth day in a row that there have been fewer than 200 new cases reported provincewide.

There are now 2,281 active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, according to the Ministry of Health's data.

Hospitalizations continue to decline steadily, decreasing by another 20 down to 331 — fewer than half the number on June 6.

Those being treated in intensive care units also decreased, down two to 82. Patients requiring the use of a ventilator, however, increased for the first time in several days, going up by five to 65.

Ontario's official COVID-19 death toll grew by 11 and now stands at 2,564. A CBC News count based on data from regional public health units puts the real current toll at 2,605.

About 78 per cent of all deaths in the province were residents of long-term care homes. Public health officials are tracking active outbreaks in 67 facilities, one more than yesterday.

7 more regions move into Phase 2 of reopening

More regions of Ontario are moving into the second stage of the province's reopening plan today, including parts of the Greater Toronto Area.

York, Durham and Niagara are among the areas allowed to further open their economies, though Toronto, Peel and Windsor-Essex will remain in the first stage until at least next Friday.

Most areas were allowed to enter the second stage last Friday, except for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, some regions that border the United States and those with COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant workers.

The second stage of reopening includes restaurant patios, hair salons and swimming pools.

As for the City of Toronto — which saw its 1,000th coronavirus-linked death this week — Peel and Windsor-Essex, Ford has urged patience.

He says the province will re-evaluate the readiness of those areas on Monday.

With files from Adam Carter, Lucas Powers and The Canadian Press