OTTAWA — Six weeks before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, parents and teachers will learn about the Ontario Government’s plans to reopen schools on Thursday..
Premier Doug Ford says he will unveil plans on how schools will open in September.
On Wednesday, a group of Ottawa parents and teachers held a rally outside Ottawa West-Nepean MPP Jeremy Roberts office, demanding a plan to reopen schools safely.
“We need to see that they have really a well-thought out, well-planned plan in place that has smaller class sizes, increased sanitization, we need to provide (personal protective equipment) for education staff,” said parent Erin Mailhot while standing outside Roberts office on Wednesday.
Ontario Parent Action Network hosted the rallies across Ontario to allow families and educators a chance to express their concerns about schools reopening. The group is calling on Ontario to provide more funding to hire more teachers and create smaller class sizes.
The main concern from parents and teachers is a lack of details about the start of the new school year.
“I don’t feel like the government is prioritizing those things and putting the money and the funding into really investing in a safe return to school,” said teacher Clare Hamilton.
“I worry that if we don’t do that we will unfortunately have to go back to distance learning.”
Ontario will announce the plan for the new school year as Ottawa sees 12 straight days of double-digit increases in COVID-19 cases.
“We’ve seen a big jump of cases in the city, Ottawa’s one of the main concerns in the province. So, how does that spill over to what’s happening in the classroom, we don’t really know,” said one woman at the rally.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce directed school boards to prepare for three possible scenarios for the new school year due to COVID-19: Full-time in class, a hybrid model of in-class and online learning and full-time online learning.
Both the Ottawa Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board have said their preference would be students in class five-days a week.
If schools must go with a mix of in-class and online learning, the Ottawa Catholic School Board is looking at having students in class three days one week, followed by two days the next week.
OCDSB has proposed a hybrid-model of students in class two days a week, with at-home learning expected the other three days.
“How are they going to bus kids to school if they’re not in the same family .. and then having to deal with things like if someone gets sick in my classroom or if I get sick what’s gonna happen, will that class have to be quarantined,” said teacher Divina Hogan.
Hamilton added, “What would feel safe to me would be definitely smaller cohorts of students, as well as masks for everyone … I also feel there should be proper handwashing facilities because my classroom does not have a sink. There’s only one girls and one boys bathroom for the entire school.”
Mandatory face masks?
A new report from Toronto’s SickKids Hospital and other hospitals across Ontario, including CHEO, recommends high school students wear face masks indoors whenever physical distancing rules cannot be followed.
The recommendations add elementary school students should not be expected to follow the same guidelines.
The report also recommends one-metre separation between desks in elementary and middle school classrooms, and two-metre separation in high school classrooms.
There is also a suggestion for schools to cancel choirs and band practices involving wind instruments.
With files from CTVNews.ca writer Graham Slaughter