The Ontario government has told school boards to maximize the time children are in the classroom, a directive that would prevent them from taking any days away from in-class instruction to clean their buildings.

Facing increased pressure from parents who want their children in school this fall, the government has directed boards to create a hybrid model in which cohorts of students alternate their time in classrooms over a two-week period. That means each group would receive in-class instruction two days one week, and three days the next, and spend the rest learning remotely.

The model was outlined in an e-mail to directors of education on Tuesday from Tony Pontes, executive director of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education, which represents leaders at all 72 school boards. The memo was obtained by The Globe and Mail. Mr. Pontes said in the e-mail that the instructions followed a phone call with deputy minister of education Nancy Naylor.

“I expressed concern that this is a change from messaging that directors have been receiving about flexibility at the board level, however, the government is not flexible on this matter,” Mr. Pontes wrote in the e-mail. He could not be reached on Wednesday.

The government, like other provinces, asked school boards in June to spend the summer preparing for reopening scenarios: remote learning; a hybrid of distance and in-class instruction; and a full return to classrooms with public health measures. It had planned to advise boards later this summer which would be used, depending on the volume of COVID-19 cases.

In an e-mailed statement on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce did not directly address the directive about the hybrid model. Alexandra Adamo said the “clear preference is to get students in class daily in September,” but the province must be ready for all situations.

“That is why we are discussing all potential arrangements for learning, out of an abundance of caution. We will continue to work to ensure school boards maximize in-class instructional learning days,” she said.

In June, Mr. Lecce gave boards the flexibility to come up with a hybrid scenario, and also indicated that is how the school year would begin.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board had proposed that half of its elementary students would attend on Monday and Tuesday, and the other half on Thursday and Friday. The board said that Wednesdays would be used to give the schools a deep cleaning. A similar model was raised at a recent Toronto District School Board meeting.

Other school boards are looking at an option for cohorts of students to spend every alternate week in school.

One senior school board administrator, who The Globe is not identifying because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said the work staff have been doing over the past few weeks is futile now that the government has issued new direction on the hybrid model.

In the e-mail, Mr. Pontes also informed the directors that the government is calling teacher unions and trustee associations to the bargaining tables to reach agreements on contract issues related to school reopening, which could include preparation time for teachers, and health and safety protocols.

The Globe and Mail, July 8, 2020