TORONTO -- Ontario has unveiled its plan to reopen schools across the province, announcing that elementary school students and many high school students will return to the classroom full-time in September.

Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce released the plan on Thursday, just six weeks before the start of the new school year. 

Two million students have been out of the classroom in Ontario at 4,800 publicly-funded schools since March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province

"We were the first province to make the difficult, but necessary, decision to close schools back in March," Ford said Thursday. "This decision put strain on families but now looking back, I know we made the right choice."

Here's a look at the government's plan for September.

Elementary schools 

Elementary school children in kindergarten through to Grade 8 will return to school five days per week across Ontario for a full day, which includes recess and lunch, with no changes to class sizes. 

Non-medical masks will be mandatory for students in Grade 4 to Grade 12. Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in common spaces.  

Students will be with one cohort for the full day and enhanced health and safety protocols will be put in place. 

Teachers will provide the full range of the elementary curriculum, the government said.

Students can expect to see changes in the timing of recesses, lunches, and bathroom breaks as they are staggered to support cohorting. 

Specialized teachers, like French teachers, will still be able to go into classrooms to provide programming for students. 


Secondary schools 

Secondary schools in designated boards will open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students. 

Those students will attend class on alternate days or alternate schedules that would represent in-person attendance for at least 50 per cent of instructional days. 

There are 24 schools boards on the designated list, which include Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Peel, Dufferin-Peel Catholic, York, York Catholic, Durham, Durham Catholic, Halton, Halton Catholic, Waterloo, Waterloo Catholic, Thames Valley, London District Catholic, Ottawa-Carleton, Ottawa Catholic, Hamilton-Wentworth, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic, Niagara, Niagara Catholic, Greater Essex Country, Windsor-Essex Catholic, Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est and Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l'Ontario. 

The remaining school boards in Ontario will be allowed to reopen for classes five days per week with full attendance. The province noted that secondary schools in these boards “typically have small enrollment.” 

The government said they will continue to monitor public health trends and when possible remove certain school boards from the designated list. 

All school boards will adopt secondary timetabling methods that emphasize cohorting of students as much as possible to limit the number of student-to-student contacts.

Safety measures

According to the government, multiple strategies will be employed to ensure schools are “healthy and safe environments” for students and staff. 

Non-medical masks will be mandatory for students in Grade 4 to Grade 12. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in common spaces. 

Medical masks will be provided for teachers and all other school staff. 

Schools will implement additional hand hygiene, cohorting, and distancing. They will also limit visitors in schools and will require pre-registration for guests. 

Schools will also rely on parents to self-screen students each day. If a student or staff member is experiencing any symptoms of the COVID-19, they will be required to stay home. 

Officials said they will try to enforce physical distancing as much as possible but did not state any specific requirements. 

Parents are allowed to decide whether their child returns to school in-person this September. Students will have the option of remote learning, which would be delivered by the school board. 

Students with a high level of special education needs, who are unable to study remotely, will be permitted daily attendance and instruction. 

The government said school boards will be ready to implement adapted and remote learning models if they are required. 

What happens if a student or staff member contracts COVID-19?

According to the government, any student or staff member who develop COVID-19 symptoms will be immediately separated from others. 

Staff and parents will then be contacted by their health provider and be informed about COVID-19 testing centres. 

People who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to school until they are cleared by public health. Anyone who tests negative can return to school once they are symptom-free for 24 hours. 

Schools will be required to immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. 

School staff will receive training on processes and procedures. 

Organized sports and clubs have been given the green light to proceed, if physical distancing can be maintained and equipment is cleaned regularly. 

New funding for schools

The Ontario government said $309 million in new funding will help assist the safe reopening of schools. 

The government has allocated $60 million for masks and personal protective equipment, $80 million for funding for additional staff, $25 million on cleaning supplies and $10 million for health and safety training. 

Taking the school bus

According to the government, students should be assigned seats on the school bus and should sit with people from their household or classroom cohort. 

school bus

School bus drivers will be provided with personal protective equipment and the seat behind the driver will be left open. 

Windows on the school buses should be left open when possible to provide extra circulation. 

The buses will also be cleaned regularly, the government said.