back to school plan ontario

Toronto Public Health disapproves of Ontario's back-to-school plan

Ontario's contentious new plan for sending students back to school full-time and in-person next month has been the talk of the province lately, with many parents and teachers calling for safer protocols — and now, Toronto Public Health (TPH) is officially agreeing with them.

In an email sent to the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) on Thursday, the health authority said that it has concerns with a number of aspects of the board's proposal, which is based on guidelines laid out by Premier Doug Ford and his team.

One of the key pain points is class sizes, which are not being reduced despite the threat of COVID-19, though Ford has assured the public that Ontario will still have the smallest class sizes of anywhere in the country.

TPH is suggesting that class sizes be reduced to enable adequate physical distancing, to ensure that exposure risk from a potential case is limited to as few people as possible and to allow teachers to maintain control over students and ensure health and safety measures are being followed.

It also pointed out that in the current plan, kids Grade 3 and younger will not have to wear masks like older students will, posing a risk that is worsened by large class sizes and the fact that the province is recommending a physical distance of only one metre between desks, as opposed to the standard two metres touted by health officials worldwide.

Though schools fall under the jurisdiction of the province and the TPH realistically has no decision-making capacity when it comes to back to school, it seems that a number of residents are commending the municipal body for speaking out on the subject.

Many have been concerned that schools will serve as a perfect breeding ground for the virus, and that the sheer number of students and staff coming into contact with one another will make proper contact tracing extremely difficult.

News about newly-reopened schools south of the border, such as the fact that they are overcrowded and already seeing cases of the virus, has not been reassuring.

Ontario's proposal is supported by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, various public health experts, Ontario Health as well as staff from Sick Kids Hospital, who offered a comprehensive set of guidelines that Ford said his plan was based on.

The premier has reiterated in numerous press conferences how important getting kids back into classrooms is for their mental health, adding that provinces like B.C. are "saying they want Ontario's plan" due to how thorough and informed it is.

As far as class sizes are concerned, Kindergarten is to be capped at 30 students with both a teacher and an early child educator, while Grades 1-3 will have class sizes capped at 20, Grades 4-8 will be capped at 24.5, and the average class size for Grades 9-12 will be 23, with some at-risk schools employing an alternating cohort model of only 15 students.

There will also be 500 public health nurses stationed in institutions, 900 new custodial staff hired to help ramp up sanitization, special health and safety training for teachers, PPE for all staff and students Grades 4 and up, outdoor classes and targeted testing and symptom screening, and more.

Still, many say these measures are not enough, and a number of parents are vowing to keep their kids at home learning remotely, an option that the province will continue to offer.

Lead photo by

Phil Roeder

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