Canada’s new COVID-19 back-to-school guidelines include many of the measures already adapted by the Ontario government, but go further by calling for a phased return to the classroom, face shields for teachers and plexiglass dividers.
The federal document released on Friday also suggests better ventilation of schools and mobile classrooms outdoors where time and space permit.
These measures are in addition to distancing measures Ontario schools are already planning to adopt, such as reduced hallway traffic and non-medical masks for students and teachers.
National guidelines recommend reduced room occupancy to allow for distancing, but there are no details on class size reduction.
Toronto Public Health officials have raised concerns about class sizes. The issue is a key point of contention between the government of Premier Doug Ford and many parents and teachers. They fear that the current size of elementary classes – especially Kindergarten and Grades 4-8 where classes may reach around 30 students – puts too many children and teachers in the same room.
Experts from the Hospital for Sick Children also said they couldn’t support a plan where physical distancing is compromised by the number of students in a room.
Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chairperson Robin Pilkey said she had received emails from parents telling her the board had a moral imperative to reduce class sizes. But this cannot be done without more money for teachers.
“In some classrooms it will be fine and in some classrooms it will be problematic,” she says.
“This is a delicate position we have found ourselves in and I hope the (provincial) government will reconsider this,” Pilkey said.
Ontario has provided $ 30 million for approximately 300 additional teachers, and school boards must apply for funding on a case-by-case basis.
“If we get the money for this, we would probably place it in areas of the city that have a higher incidence of COVID so that we can reduce those classes,” Pilkey said.
On Monday, the board begins a pre-registration survey to determine how many children are returning to school and plan for class sizes and teacher placement accordingly. But Pilkey says it’s hard for parents to tell if they want to send their kids away because they don’t know what school will be like.
“You have to ask yourself if this is part of the government’s strategy – hoping people just don’t come,” she said.
Students who do not return will receive instruction online, but it will not necessarily be taught by teachers at their own school. The council hopes to use teachers who cannot return to school due to their own health considerations to teach distance education, Pilkey said.
The TDSB already plans for teachers and students above grade 4 to wear non-medical masks. While elementary classes will continue as conventionally as possible, the secondary school will reduce class sizes by alternating students who take turns going to school and have a modified “term” learning program where they will focus. on two courses at a time rather than the usual four.
There are no plans to build physical barriers that could potentially isolate children in modern classrooms that don’t easily support divided office setups, Pilkey said. But if that was the only way to keep children safe, it could be considered.
She said there was value in considering a gradual start to the school year that would allow schools to see how things work with a smaller number of participants. But it’s a provincial decision and for now everyone is going back on September 8th.
No decision has been made regarding face shields for teachers, but it could be considered for staff moving from classroom to classroom. Pilkey said she saw no objection if the staff felt the safest way to wear them.
The federal document titled COVID-19 guidance for schools Kindergarten to Grade 8, is not prescriptive, but designed to be used alongside provincial guidelines taking into account local health conditions, said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief administrator of the public health of Canada.
“Since physical distance is not always possible in school settings, it is important to overlap several measures to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
The measures will vary according to school setting and student populations.
The province has responded to some of the school board’s priorities, such as personal protective and cleaning equipment, mental health, special education and training, Cathy Abraham, president of the Association of Boards said in a statement. Ontario Public Schools (OPSBA).
“However, a number of school boards remain concerned about the lack of sufficient funding to reduce class sizes, as recommended by the Sick Kids report, as well as the federal guidelines,” she said.
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Abraham said the association would continue to advocate for “sufficient funding to make going back to school as safe as possible.”
Ontario Education spokesman Stephen Lecce described the back-to-school plan as an “evolving document” designed to adapt to scientific advice as it emerges. .
“We are proud to lead the country in per student funding, an aggressive hiding policy for students in Grades 4 to 12, hiring over 1,300 gatekeepers and additional cleanup funding, as well. than hiring 500 public health nurses to support student health in our schools, ”said Alexandra Adamo.
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