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March 31, 2020 0 Comments

Ontario schools won’t open until at least May

Ontario schools won’t open until at least May and students will be given grade-by-grade guidelines for the number of hours they should be spending on classwork during the extended shutdown, sources told the Star.

On Tuesday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to release specific numbers of hours per week for students, and for high school students that could be broken down by course — but they will be guidelines and not requirements, sources say.

And for high school students – especially those in Grade 12 – hopes are that work can be assessed and final grades provided, those with knowledge of the plan said.

The approach is closely based on that of Alberta’s, where elementary students will be given five hours of work each week, middle school students will have 10 hours, and high school students will be expected to complete three hours of work each week, per course.

In Ontario, details are still being worked out on how to address lack of home computers or internet access for both students and teachers, though some have suggested that boards loan out laptops or tablets used in classrooms to kids who need them.

However, while teachers may be granted access to schools to gather their belongings, for now students won’t be able to, sources also said.

Lecce is also working with the post-secondary ministry to ensure that Grade 12 students won’t be penalized when applying to colleges or universities.

“In partnership with school boards and educators, our aim is to ensure every child — irrespective of ability, geography or socio-economic circumstance — can learn safely while at home,” Lecce said in a written statement to the Star on Monday.

Lecce said he has “been speaking to parents of children with special education needs about the heightened challenges they face as we all respond to COVID-19. These parents need additional supports. That is why we announced an immediate $250 in support for families with a special-needs child up to 21. We are also expanding parental resources and guides, reintroducing the support of front-line mental health and special education workers within our boards, and expanding professional development of our educators to empower them to support these children as best they can.”

In recent days, Lecce has been meeting with teacher unions, students, directors and his special education advisory council, as well as mental health help providers.

This week, many boards across the province have asked teachers to reach out to their students to figure out who has computer access and if online work is feasible, and who requires nondigital materials

“There is a recognition that there is not going to be a way for everybody to be doing the same thing,” said one source familiar with the province’s plans, who said they are a work in progress and changes will be rolled out over time.

In a message to trustees sent out Monday, the head of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said boards are looking at any protective equipment or cleaning supplies they can share with hospitals, and have been asked to look at “any schools or administrative buildings that could potentially be used for health care purposes, should the need arise.”

President Cathy Abraham said “discussions are taking place to consider using school transportation vehicles to transport chemotherapy or kidney dialysis patients to their medical appointments. These patients are often driven by volunteers who are currently not able to provide this important service. “

She said for students, “it is incredibly important to maintain a sense of stability and routine for our students – particularly for those with special needs, or those who have other challenging life circumstances. That’s why staff from school boards across the province have been working together with the ministry and labour leaders to put in place a plan for continuity of learning.”

She said “there are, and will continue to be, a number of professional development opportunities made available to teachers to assist them with the transition to alternative forms of interaction with their students. I know the directors of education and board staff are working with the ministry to develop a pragmatic solution that will allow boards to address their own unique local circumstances and challenges.”

In Alberta, the government has said the students in elementary school, up to Grade 6, are expected to complete five hours of work a week, which jumps to 10 for those in grades 7 and 8.

High school students are to spend three hours a week on academic work for each course they are taking.

The government expects that students in Grade 7 and up will focus on math, literacy, science and social studies.

It says school boards will use online teaching, but also paper packages and telephone calls as well.

In British Columbia, guidelines have been given to school boards which are now working out their learning plans.

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Last week, the government sent a letter to parents, saying teachers and schools will hold “primary responsibility” for students’ learning, but suggested parents have an important role to play as well.

Students are to receive a final grade.

Alberta also recently gave layoff notices to 20,000 school support staff.

The Ontario government says it has no plans to let school staff go.

Schools have been shut down because of the pandemic since the March break, and were set to reopen April 6, though Premier Doug Ford has said that date was not realistic.

With files from Wanyee Li

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