Ontario high schools allowed to return to regular semesters in February

Ontario will allow high schools to shift back to regular semesters come February.

School boards can make the change sooner if they have their local public health unit's support

Numerous school boards have requested the move away from 'modified semesters,' which saw students take four courses each term, alternating which two classes they had each week. (Fancis Ferland/Radio-Canada/CBC)

Ontario high schools will shift back to regular semesters no later than February, returning secondary students to a normal schedule for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.

School boards will be able to make the change sooner if they have their local public health unit's support, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday.

"Recognizing the high rates of immunization among youth in our secondary schools, I'm proud to announce that secondary schools will resume a regular timetable model of four courses a day starting in Term 2," he said.

Numerous school boards have requested the move away from "modified semesters," which saw students take four courses each term, alternating which two classes they had each week.

The system allows for easier cohorting, but students and parents have complained that the three-hour classes make it hard to absorb and retain information.

In the last academic year, many secondary schools opted for a "quadmester" model, in which the year was divided into four terms, each with only two courses.

'Definitely good news'

Thursday's announcement immediately got a stamp of approval from the Ontario Public School Boards Association.

"This return to a regular timetable for secondary students will improve student engagement and achievement, while allowing educators to create more effective teaching and learning environments," OPSBA president Cathy Abraham said in a written statement.

"This is definitely good news."

The Toronto Catholic District School Board was among the boards that had asked the province to switch to regular semesters, and it said Thursday it would aim to change schedules in February 2022.

Even the Opposition NDP applauded the move.

"I think everybody is happy, generally, to see that change," New Democrat education critic Marit Stiles said.

The upcoming change is part of a suite of measures the province announced Thursday. 

Elementary students won't see cohorting rules change

Lecce said elementary students, many of whom are currently too young to be vaccinated, will not see their schedules or cohorting rules change.

"We're introducing additional temporary measures to protect them as the winter months approach," he said.

Health Canada is expected to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in kids aged five to 11 on Friday, but Lecce said it will take time to get vaccination rates up in that age group.

He said that starting in January — or earlier, if local public health units deem it necessary — all elementary school-wide assemblies are to be held virtually.

Lunches and breaks in elementary schools will be restricted to classroom cohorts indoors when distancing between cohorts can't be maintained.

The province also rolled out a winter testing plan for schools, which will see students sent home for the December break with five rapid antigen COVID-19 tests apiece.

The 11 million tests will be distributed over the next month to all publicly funded schools.