Planning for Return to School in Fall 2020

Public schools in Ontario have been closed since March 13, 2020 due to the COVID-19. Plans are underway for a return to school in September and the Minister of Education has identified that parent choice will determine if an individual student is to return to in-class instruction. In addition, The Ministry of Education has asked school boards to plan for three education options in the fall:

  • normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols
  • modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and
  • at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery

The Ministry of Education has asked school boards to provide their plan for return to school by August 4, 2020 for review by the Ministry.

The Minister’s statements and direction to school boards has left a lot of parents confused and unsure of what to expect in the fall, and what it means for their child.

Voluntary in-school attendance

The return to school in the fall of 2020-21 will be voluntary and based on parent choice. For parents who choose not to send their child back to school, school boards will offer remote education.

This means that if your child has a compromised immune system or underlying health conditions that put them at high risk for complications from COVID-19 you may choose to keep your child at home for the next school year, or until the risk from COVID-19 is significantly reduced, or until there is a vaccine available. This will keep your child safe at home, but it means that you will need to support remote learning at home.

For all students, it is possible that they will participate in remote learning if their school board uses an adapted model (alternate day or alternate week) or if a class or school is required to quarantine for 14 days or more. This means that all families need to plan for distance learning to be part of the 2020-2021 school year.

Distance Learning

In the spring, families and students were thrown into a virtual learning environment without any preparation and learning strategies and resources were developed on an ad hoc basis. As a parent, you know what worked for you and what barriers you and your child faced in accessing the curriculum and completing course work.

As remote learning is likely to be required for all students, you need to start planning now for distance learning and identify what additional supports and resources you will need. Families have identified the following factors as important elements of successful remote learning:

  • Accessibility – assistive and adaptive hardware and accessible leaning platforms and resources
  • Alternative formats – access to print resources and a process using Canada Post or hand delivery/pick up to obtain and return learning materials
  • Internet – access to high speed and reliable internet connections
  • Social and emotional support to support student well-being and reduce social isolation, as well as that of parents
  • Technology – access to computer hardware and software
  • Training and technical support – parent and student training sessions on using technology, accessing resources and participating in virtual classrooms and teacher-led sessions

For students with physical disabilities and health challenges, families have also indicated that they need:

  • Access to health and rehabilitation services at home through in-person supports (with appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and safety precautions) or virtual delivery
  • Planned respite and care supports to provide a break from 24-hour care in the home

Planning over the Summer

Although most teachers and other school staff are on their planned summer break, the school boards are working to develop their plans for the fall. Many school boards are offering summer programs including specialized programs for students with special education needs. In addition, school boards have been provided additional resources to focus on transition planning for a return to school in the last two weeks of the summer break.

If you are considering keeping your child at home, you can prepare for the fall by:

  • Identifying the equipment and resources you will need to continue remote learning
  • Identifying the training or support that would help you support your child’s learning at home
  • Reaching out to the school Principal to start work on a transition plan for the fall for your child

For more information on the provincial approach to reopening schools for the 2020-2021 school year at: https://www.ontario.ca/page/approach-reopening-schools-2020-2021-school-year

NOTE: Additional parent articles are being prepared for this blog and will be posted over the summer as plans evolve for school in fall 2020.