Back to School 2020 Update​ – Ontario & BC Outline Plans

by Ian Howarth | Author, SchoolAdvice Consultant  | [email protected]

In the early days of a Canadian August parents, teachers and students do a kind of silent countdown to the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Time to shop for clothes and school supplies, checking off the items generally laid out in a list provided by the school. For the first time ever, something new is on the agenda (not on the list) and that would be anxiety dialed up high due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. To try and address that collective anxiety, provincial governments have been outlining their plans to a safe back to school environment for teachers, administrators and students. Both British Columbia and Ontario offered up their formula for the return late last week, fleshing out details to their intention to have elementary and secondary students return to classes in September.

Of course, at the centre of each plan is the safety of in-school staff and students.All 10 Canadian provinces are firmly behind and committed to the idea that schools must start up.Of course, nor everyone is happy about what the plans entail.


Here’s some highlights from both provinces:



A COVID-19 plan means a government has to be prepared to throw some extra funding in support of its measures. For Ontario that translates into about $306 million: $60 million of it for masks,face shields and sanitation stations; $120 million towards hiring 500 “school-focused” nurses and 900 additional custodians plus cleaning supplies and another $30 million for teaching and supervisory staff. 

Elementary schools will open to in-person teaching while high schools will alternate between attending and on-line learning. Masks are recommended for grades 4-12 whereas the younger students, more likely to have problems wearing masks properly, will not be required to wear them.

Not all regions of Ontario are in Phase 3 of opening up and parents are encouraged to check with their local school board to see which category they fall into.

One key complaint is the fact that elementary class sizes have not been reduced. NDP education critic MPP Marit Stiles has done the math on the Ford government’s proposed plans and said the plan does not allow for adequate hiring of additional teachers, working out to an average of $16,000 of additional funding per school. According to 2018-19 stats, Ontario has 3948 elementary and 880 high schools. 


Returning to school with corona virus

The well-respected and world-renown Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto has also chimed in on the back to school protocols, recommending smaller class sizes, teaching proper hand hygiene and encouraging parents to not send their children to school if they are not feeling well. “We have to accept that COVID-19 will stay with us for a long time. We must move on with certain activities in our lives, such as schooling, while keeping in mind that there are a lot of ways to mitigate risk,” says Dr. Ronald Cohn, President and CEO of SickKids. “As a society, we’ve made an important shift in the dialogue about our children and the adverse health impacts of school closures,” said Dr. Cohn. “While we recognize that COVID-19 will be with us for some time, continuing to stay home from school has become untenable for many children, youth and families. Effective, evidence-based strategies can help promote the safety of students, teachers, school staff and families as they return to school.”


The four major teachers unions in Ontario were less than enthusiastic about the back to school package. Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), says more must be done to adequately fund a safe return to school for everyone involved.

“While the announcement of new funding is welcome, it’s quite clear that the Ford government isn’t willing to pay the full cost of ensuring the safety of students and educators in September,” said Hammond. “The premier promised Ontarians that he ‘will spare no expense’ to keep people safe, yet he and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are betraying that promise to students, educators, parents and communities with this ill-prepared plan.”

Some parents are relieved that students will be back in school and not online, a process that not every parent can monitor or evaluate. Students need structure, most experts would agree, and watching or occasionally dropping in on an online learning session with your son or daughter just doesn’t address their learning needs.Still, remote learning has been an effective educational option for many and that door has been opened, never to be shut again. Baked into the Ontario plan is web-based learning for those families that choose not to send their kids back to school.. There will be some parents who do not see back to school as the celebratory event that it once was. 

British Columbia

British Columbia is one of the few Canadian provinces to bring students back in June with some success. As such, the government has COVID-19 procedures that worked for the estimated 200,000 students who went back for the weeks prior to the normal summer break.

B.C. is allocating $45.6 million for its back to school protocol. Students will be divided into “learning groups’ (another term for cohorts) of 60 for elementary and middle school (grades 7and 8) and 120 for secondary. These learning groups are designed to reduce the number of people students come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus,said Public Health Officer Bonnie Henry.

Of course, there are some who think that the very idea of returning to school is a bad. An online petition being circulated is gaining some traction with over 1,000 signatures. “This plan is contrary to the recommendation of ‘fewer faces, bigger spaces’,” the petition reads. “It is irresponsible to require students to return to class at full capacity in September 2020, despite acknowledging that social distancing is not possible. This ‘Plan’ to try and forcefully put our kids back to school on a mandatory basis is extremely irresponsible.”

BC Teachers’ Federation President Teri Mooring spoke on behalf of his 42,000  teacher membership. “As a teacher, parent, grandparent, and President of the BCTF, I agree that we need to get back to in-person learning. There were a lot of challenges with emergency remote learning in the spring as well as the partial return in June. But, the imperative to get students back into schools needs to be balanced with health and safety considerations…Based on what the government released today, their plan isn’t ready yet. It needs more work.”

Mooring wasn’t entirely oppositional,praising the  government for pulling together a significant amount of new funding to improve cleaning, hire more staff, and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to all teachers and staff who need or want it.”Teachers and support staff need time in September to adjust to the new structures, make sure the proper health and safety protocols work and prepare curricular resources and lessons that meet the new reality.” As if teaching isn’t already a challenging profession, this back to school time will see healthcare worker added to the long list of responsibilities many teachers are expected to meet.

Private schools are recruiting nurses to help secure school re-starts. SchoolAdvice Career Network job posts.

Nursing jobs at private school increase dramatically

Covid Reality Check From a School Superintendent in Arizona

Finally, in the “YouThink You’ve Got Problems” category, this Washington Post story about a superintendent of a small school in Arizona puts back to school in perspective as he looks to open up in two weeks. A moving account of a man trying to juggle several hats at the same time. Like the front line  workers who have been deemed heroes, superintendent Jeff Gregorich deserves a place front and centre with others who are making due with the limited resources they have.  

Here is an excerpt:

I run a high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona. We’re 90 percent Hispanic and more than 90 percent free-and-reduced lunch. These kids need every dollar we can get. But covid is spreading all over this area and hitting my staff, and now it feels like there’s a gun to my head. I already lost one teacher to this virus. Do I risk opening back up even if it’s going to cost us more lives? Or do we run school remotely and end up depriving these kids?


To read the complete article,click here:

opening schools in arizona while covid 19 spreads


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