National Newswatch

TORONTO — Ontario students will likely return to school in September with a mix of in-class and remote learning, the government announced Friday, though boards will develop various scenarios, depending on how COVID-19 is spreading at that point.

Premier Doug Ford said that with different areas of the province at different stages of reopening, the same should apply to school boards, so there won't be a one-size-fits-all approach in schools.

But, parents provincewide will have the option of sending their children back to class or keeping them learning remotely, he said.

"This virus remains a threat and the health and safety of our children will always remain top of mind," Ford said.

"If you don't feel comfortable, if you're worried about your child returning to school, we'll keep at-home learning available for your child."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said boards are being asked to prepare plans for three scenarios: regular in-class instruction with public health protocols, fully remote learning, and a plan that blends the two approaches.

Lecce said he expects all students to start September with the blended model, which will see no more than 15 students in class, attending on alternating days or weeks.

Students in class will interact only with their classmates and a single teacher. That will keep close contact to a minimum, while still allowing students to play with some other students, Lecce said.

That blended model will be evaluated after September, and if public health trends are heading in the right direction, boards could move closer to more conventional schooling.

Schools across the province have been closed since March 13, when the government moved to shut down much of Ontario to address the spread of COVID-19.

A report released this week by medical experts from Toronto's SickKids Hospital said children are not the super-spreaders of COVID-19 that experts initially believed they would be.

Guidelines on reopening provided by those experts to the province include extra hand hygiene, environmental cleaning and ventilation, and taking classes outdoors when possible — but not requiring masks for kids or discouraging close play.

Ontario reported 178 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and 11 more deaths.

That brought the province to a total of 33,095 cases, an increase of 0.5 per cent over the previous day.

It includes 2,564 deaths and 28,250 resolved cases — 246 more than the previous day.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 dropped from 351 to 331, and while the number of people in intensive care also fell, the number of people on ventilators rose from 60 to 65.

About 60 per cent of the day's new cases come from the only three regions not yet in Stage 2 of reopening: 56 in Toronto, 33 in Peel and 17 in Windsor-Essex.

More remaining regions of Ontario moved into the second stage of the province's reopening plan Friday, including parts of the Greater Toronto Area.

The second stage of reopening includes restaurant patios, hair salons and swimming pools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2020.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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