Reopening of Schools in Ontario
The month of July has flown by, with August quickly following it. But isn’t that always the case with summer? Before we know it, we are shopping for school supplies, cleaning out our backpacks and binders, digging out our uniforms, and preparing for a new school year.
However, this year is far from normal. As students prepare for their return to school in September, they must also prepare to face the challenge of adjusting to the “new normal.”
Student wearing a mask at school (Weill Cornell Medicine)
Ontario's back-to-school plan
The province of Ontario has recently announced its back-to-school plan for September. Elementary students—Kindergarten to Grade 8—will return to school full-time. Meanwhile, secondary students within province-designated school boards will attend school on alternating days, allowing for class cohorts of approximately 15 students. This means that learning for secondary students will be approximately 50% in-class and 50% online.
Face masks will be mandatory for students in Grades 4 through 12 while indoors on school property. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged to wear a mask when indoors at school, although it is not mandatory.
Exceptions do apply, as parents who wish to opt their children out of in-person classes may do so. As well, children with special education needs who experience difficulty with online learning will be permitted to attend school full-time.
School boards will also be required to employ protection strategies. These include:
Making self-screening and self-assessment tools available
Adapting the school environment to promote protection strategies
Ensuring proper hand hygiene among students and staff
Supplying masks and PPE
Implementing adapted timetables that support class cohorts
Promoting physical distancing in classrooms and other areas of the school
Limiting or prohibiting visitors from entering the school, including parents
For more information on the reopening of Ontario schools, visit the Government of Ontario website at https://www.ontario.ca/page/guide-reopening-ontarios-schools
Risks, concerns, and other discussions
The Ontario back-to-school plan has raised many concerns regarding the safety of students, teachers, and other education workers. When it comes to the full-time return of elementary students, a major concern is the large class sizes. These class sizes will make it extremely difficult to maintain physical distancing measures. Another major concern is having enough funding. The Ontario Government will need to provide a large amount of additional funding for decreased class sizes, school nurses, custodial staff, and protection strategies, including masks and PPE for all students and education staff.
On the other hand, many feel that the back-to-school plan is reassuring and much needed.
Joanna Cabral, a parent of two children attending schools in the Peel Region, is grateful for the reopening of schools in September. Cabral tells Global News:
“They need that structure back. And honestly, I don’t think the government would send our kids back to school if they didn’t feel like they were safe.”
General advice regarding back-to-school
Ultimately, the decision of returning to in-class schooling is up to students and parents to discuss what works best for them while ensuring safety. One thing is for sure: this school year will certainly look different than the past. To help you navigate the new school year, here are some tips to assist you in overcoming any unfamiliarity and difficulty you may find.
Have a conversation with your parents/guardians about back-to-school. Discuss any fears or concerns you may have regarding the new school year. These open discussions will help them to understand how you are feeling and how they can help you throughout this transition.
Familiarize yourself with the pandemic precautions your school is implementing. These can include changes to classrooms, hallways, entrances, cafeterias, busing, and other policies. It is a good idea to check your school website for information and updates.
Be prepared with everything you will need in class: writing utensils, notebooks, a calculator, a water bottle, etc. In an effort to minimize contact among students, you may find yourself unable to borrow an eraser from a friend or head down the hallway for a drink at the water fountain. To avoid these situations, make sure you are fully prepared for classes!
For secondary students who will be participating in 50% in-class and 50% online learning, make the most of class time! You will likely be attending school on alternating days, so come to class prepared with any questions you wish to ask, and leave with all the knowledge you need for the following day of remote learning.
Overall, your main responsibility as a student is to learn, while also prioritizing your physical and mental health. Ensure your own safety and the safety of those around you by practicing physical distancing, wearing a mask in indoor spaces, maintaining good hand hygiene, and following the protection strategies your school has put in place. Caring for mental health during this time is equally important! It is common to feel nervous and anxious when approaching a new school year, especially with the uncertainty and unfamiliarity this year brings. If you find that these challenges become difficult to manage, reach out to a parent, teacher, guidance counselor, or trusted adult.
*Note: Race To A Cure is currently directing a research study looking at the socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian youth. The target demographic (Canadian students aged 13-21) was accessed via a socio-economic survey. In the survey, students are asked about various aspects of their social lives, financial situations, and overall mental health effects from these two overarching themes. Race To A Cure aims to use the results of the study in hopes of supplying this information to educational institutions and helping them guide students through this difficult time.
In spite of these circumstances, a new school year is always bound to bring some excitement! The next few terms may seem unfamiliar and strange, but by entering this unknown together and supporting one another, we can experience another school year that is just as—if not more—successful than previous years!
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Thompson, N. (2020, July 31). Ontario back-to-school plan draws fear and praise from parents.
Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://globalnews.ca/news/7238928/parents-teachers
Wang, K. (2020, August 01). Coronavirus: Concerns raised over Ontario's back-to-school plan.
Retrieved August 10, 2020, from https://globalnews.ca/news/7244152/coronavirus-back-to
Article contributors: Sherilyn Wen, Victoria Huang