Ontario ups investment for safety in school settings

‘To protect Ontario students and staff, we have again strengthened our plan with tougher measures and new investments’

Ontario ups investment for safety in school settings
With this new funding, schools will have been provided with more than $1.6 billion to better protect students, staff and families.

The Ontario government is providing an additional $381 million, provided through the federal Safe Return to Class Fund, to keep schools safe from COVID-19.

“To protect Ontario students and staff, and with the aim of reopening all schools, we have again strengthened our plan with tougher measures and new investments,” said Stephen Lecce, minister of education. “We agree with parents and medical experts that kids need to be learning in class - alongside their friends and teachers - as it is crucial for their mental wellbeing and development. We will continue to follow expert medical advice and work to get all schools open, for children in all regions of our province.”

The funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health and hire additional staff. With this new funding, schools will have been provided with more than $1.6 billion to better protect students, staff and families.

Last month, Ontario announced it is providing $13.6 million to enable school boards to hire more teachers and staff in regions recently moved to the Red-Control level and providing stabilization funding for school boards, if needed.

In September 2020, the federal government also invested $763.34 million in support for Ontario through the Safe Return to Class Fund.

Ontario's plan to safely reopen schools draws on the advice of leading health experts and the best available data, according to the provincial government. Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health and leading medical and scientific experts, including the Hospital for Sick Children, support the safe return to in-person learning for students and staff and are encouraged by Ontario's experience in safely reopening schools in September, it said.

Additional measures

As of February 1, 2021, more than 520,000 students across Ontario will be able to learn in-person. To support their safe return, and on the best advice of experts, Ontario is introducing additional measures to further protect students and staff, including:

  • provincewide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, using a combination of lab-processed PCR and rapid antigen tests;
  • mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3, including outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
  • enhanced screening of secondary students and staff;
  • new guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and
  • temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.

Ontario will also be providing an additional 3.5 million masks for students with a high-quality standard.

“With these enhanced measures, we are making good progress towards a province-wide return to in-person learning, while keeping the safety of children, teachers and schools at the forefront,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Moreover, I am pleased to be getting more children back in class, which greatly benefits their development and well-being.”

Also, to support the expansion of targeted asymptomatic testing, the Ministry of Education has procured test collection capacity for up to 50,000 tests per week, to be deployed at the discretion of local public health units in collaboration with schools.

The Ministry of Education has also worked with the Ontario College of Teachers to introduce a new temporary certificate to help stabilize staffing levels in our schools. This will allow school boards to employ eligible teacher candidates when there are no occasional teachers available from their current lists. This decision underscores the shortage of available certified teachers in the province, following the hiring of over 3,400 net new temporary teaching positions.

To support families of eligible front-line workers in areas where elementary school is not returning to in-person learning by Feb. 1, 2021, The province vowed to continue emergency childcare support.