Premier Doug Ford’s government has done a good job so far in its three-stage reopening of Ontario for business in the face of COVID-19, but the province has got to get its act together on plans for schools in September.
That was the gaping hole in Ford’s announcement Monday that most municipalities will move to Stage 3 this Friday — the “new normal” until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19 — with the rest, including the GTA, expected to follow a week or so later.
But the lack of certainty about what happens exactly eight weeks from now — on Tuesday, Sept. 8 — when Ontario schools are scheduled to reopen, with students having been out of class for six months, is alarming.
Premier Doug Ford said Monday:
“I know that parents want to know what school will look like this fall. My friends, let me be clear. I want to see every child in Ontario back to school full-time this September. This is what we’re working towards with the support of our medical officers of health and our local school boards and I’m confident that we will get there.
“But we will not take unnecessary risks when it comes to our children and that’s why we have to continue planning for every possible scenario to keep our kids safe as they get back to school.”
Ford’s remarks were echoed by Education Minister Stephen Lecce, but the province’s current “three-option” strategy to reopen schools is a recipe for chaos.
They’ve been told to prepare for either a full resumption of in-class instruction; online learning only; or a “hybrid” plan of students attending classes limited to 15 on alternating days or weeks.
Local school boards and public health officials are to make their choices as Sept. 8 approaches.
The first problem is that each of the three options requires different teaching methods and curriculum plans. Two of the three require enhanced safety measures in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Second, imagine a working single parent, let alone two, trying to plan for daycare for their elementary school-aged children in a system where they may be attending school full-time, or not at all, or on alternate days or weeks.
Does no one in the education ministry understand that in a typical school year, parents are firming up daycare plans for their children now, if they haven’t already done so?
If working parents have to stay home to care for their children that will also impact their employers.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Monday daycare centres as of July 27 will be able to care for 15 children, up from 10, meaning system capacity will be 91% of pre-COVID-19 levels.
But that’s capacity. Many daycares said they weren’t ready to open when the limit was 10 children. Even if they’re all open Sept. 8, having 9% of parents scrambling for daycare would be a disaster.
Finally, potential school chaos will not be a good time to introduce the back-to-basics math curriculum which, while commendable, isn’t going to be effective unless these issues are quickly resolved.
As for ending academic streaming in 2021— a debate in Ontario for over three decades — the planning for that must start now if it’s going to work.
Ford and Lecce said school boards will soon have clearer advice and instructions on how to approach the coming school year. Let’s hope so.