TORONTO — Ontario's elementary students and many high schoolers will return to traditional classrooms full time in September, the provincial government announced Thursday.
But the province's new back-to-school plan indicates that high school students at two dozen boards — including the Toronto District School Board — will only attend class half the time in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, with a maximum class size of 15.
Those students will receive "curriculum-linked independent work" on days when they are not in class.
Meanwhile, elementary students will be in school full time, and while their classes won't be broken up into smaller groups, they won't be allowed to mix with other cohorts.
"We're going to get our kids back to schools in a way that looks and feels much like it used to," Premier Doug Ford said, adding that the plan had been green-lit by top public health officials.
The plan gives parents the option to keep their kids out of class, and says boards must provide options for remote learning.
It says students in grades 4 through 12 must wear masks in class, while younger kids are encouraged to do so in indoor common areas.
A guidance document says schools should promote "as much distancing as possible."
Instead of strictly enforcing physical distancing, the province says it will be leaning more heavily on other public health measures, including keeping students separated into designated groups — or "cohorts" — and encouraging hand hygiene.
The government is also announcing $309 million in funding to make the plan work, including $60 million for personal protective equipment and $80 million for extra staffing.
The highly anticipated announcement comes just six weeks before back-to-school season and a week before the province's 72 school boards were initially asked to have their plans for the academic year submitted to the province.
The announcement comes as Ontario logged fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19 for a second day in a row, with 89 new cases reported on Thursday.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 28 of the province's 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with 17 reporting no new ones.
She said the number of people in hospital, in intensive care and on a ventilator all went down, and the province was able to complete more than 27,600 tests the previous day.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2020.
The Canadian Press