Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he wants to see students back in the classroom this fall as the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in the province continues to decrease.
“Let me be clear, I want to see every child in Ontario back to school, full-time, this September,” Ford said on Monday. “This is what we’re working towards with the support of our medical officer of health and our local school boards, and I’m confident that we will get there.”
The news comes as Ford announced on Monday that nearly all of Ontario, with the exception of the Toronto-area and a few other regions, will move into Stage 3 of the province’s regional reopening plan by the end of the week.
Ford acknowledges that the plan is not without risk and says his government will “continue planning for every possible scenario” to keep kids safe as they get back to school.
In June, the Ontario government released three potential plans for how schools will operate in September.
These include students returning to in-person instruction while adhering to public health measures, continue using remote learning strengthened by live instruction, or take part in a blending of the first two options that will see students attend school on alternative days or weeks.
"We need to be prepared for all eventualities and adopt a prudent flexibility for whatever path the outbreak takes," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said. "This has not changed. As the public health data has improved over the past several weeks, we've been working closely with medical experts to enable conventional daily delivery in September."
Publically-funded schools in Ontario closed after March Break as new COVID-19 infections surged in the province. The government originally set up online learning tools to keep students engaged during the time off, but decided to close schools for the rest of the year in mid-May.
The ministry of education has tasked school boards with determining which back-to-school scenario works best for their region . Meanwhile, Lecce said he would have more to say about the plan to return students to school "soon."
Ontario child care centres to increase capacity
At the same news conference, Ford’s government also announced that Ontario child care centres would be increasing capacity later this month.
“A key part of getting people back to work is making sure parents and workers have the child care support they need,” Ford said.
As a result, the Ontario government said child care centres in the province will be able to operate in increased cohorts of 15 children, up from the current maximum of 10 children, as of July 27 with health and safety measures in place.
Minister Lecce says the changes will allow the sector to reach “approximately 90 per cent of the capacity that existed pre-COVID."
"Make no mistake, when it comes to your kid's safety, we will do whatever it takes," Lecce said.
Last month, all child care centres in Ontario were allowed to reopen with limited capacity and enhanced cleaning protocols.
Right now, all child care centres operating in Ontario must also have a COVID-19 response plan in place if a child, parent or staff member is exposed to the virus.
With files from Katherine DeClerq