By Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller
It is hard to believe that we already talking about back to school, but here we are, preparing for another school year.
I want to take this time to discuss our government’s plan for the safe reopening of schools in September. We are taking a balanced and cautious approach to this reopening plan, with student safety, mental health, and well-being being the top priorities.
Our government has invested $1.6 billion in COVID-19 resources for our schools, including improved ventilation systems. We are also investing in $85.5 million to support learning recovery in math and reading.
We understand the importance of in-person education, for not only its educational value but also for its equally important social value. Our government understands the burden of lockdowns on students’ mental health, and we are committed to providing school boards with the resources necessary to support students’ well-being.
As during the 2020-21 school year, staff and students will be required to self-screen every day before school. Staff and students who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 must not attend school and should follow public health guidelines which may include getting tested for COVID-19. Students in Grades 1 through 12 will be required to wear masks inside school buildings, and on school vehicles. Mask removal will be permitted to eat and drink, and during low-contact physical activity when physical distance can be maintained. Students will not be required to wear masks outdoors but should be encouraged to distance as much as possible.
The 2021-22 school year will see a much-anticipated return of clubs and athletics. These important activities contribute to the overall well-being of students and increase community engagement. Clubs, activities, sport teams, bands (without wind instruments), and extra-curriculars will be permitted. High-contact activities will take place in outdoor spaces. Low-contact activities are to be permitted indoors, with masking encouraged but not required if physical distance can be maintained. Day trips and overnight stays will be permitted and must follow provincial guidelines.
The key to allowing schools, as well as businesses and other facilities, to reopen safely is vaccination. I am proud to see continuous growth in the numbers of vaccinated Ontarians. We have made tremendous progress with more than 20 million doses of vaccine administered and with more than 73 per cent of Ontarians 12 and over having received both doses. If you have been fully vaccinated, thank you. If you haven’t yet been vaccinated, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is running walk-in clinics.
Our vaccination rate will help protect not only those who have been vaccinated but it will help stop the spread of COVID-19 to those children under 12 for whom a vaccine has yet to be approved. In order to ensure more students 12 and older and staff are vaccinated, the province will be collaborating with public health units and school boards to host vaccination clinics in or near schools. Ontario is finalizing a COVID vaccination disclosure policy for all publicly funded school board employees, private school staff, and for staff in licensed child care settings, with regular rapid antigen testing requirements for staff who are not immunized against COVID-19.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we truly saw the importance of access to high-speed internet for students, families, and businesses. Our government views internet access as an essential means of accessing services such as education, health care, and mental health supports, and recognizes its role in business as well. The government of Ontario has committed nearly $4 billion to connect every Ontarian to high-speed internet by the end of 2025
Our government has partnered with the federal government to invest over $1.2 billion in high-speed internet through the province’s Improving Connectivity for Ontario (ICON) program and the federal Universal Broadband Fund (UBF). This partnership will support large-scale connectivity projects across the province and will focus on serving rural and northern communities that have been historically underserviced. Parry Sound–Muskoka has a number of approved projects that will improve service across the riding.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the passing of former Premier Bill Davis, who spent 25 years serving the province of Ontario and led the province as premier for 14 years. As many people know, my father, Frank Miller, served in the cabinet of Premier Davis including serving for five years as provincial treasurer.
I first met Premier Davis in 1971 when he was the guest speaker at my father’s nomination meeting at Bracebridge Public School. My second memory of him was being very nervous when as a teenager I was asked to introduce him during a packed campaign stop in Georgian Bay Township.
Premier Davis has been affectionately referred to as Ontario’s education premier because of his commitment to education, including the creation of Ontario’s community college system.
Premier Davis was not only a champion of education but also of the environment. He created Canada’s first Environment Ministry and oversaw the implementation of Canada’s first environmental land-use plan. He sat on a joint Canadian-American council to tackle the environmental impact of acid and served as Canada’s special envoy on acid rain. This understanding of the importance of our natural environment was rooted in Premier Davis’ love of his cottage on Georgian Bay. In fact, I was very surprised before I was first elected to receive a phone call from Premier Davis to make sure I was aware of environmental issues effecting Georgian Bay.
I wish all our students, teachers, and staff a safe and happy return to school. I hope that this year is a return to normalcy, and that it is filled with the many activities that were not able to take place last year. Please continue to support our students by getting vaccinated and following public health measures.
Photo of MPP Norm Miller is courtesy of his office. Queen’s Park photo “June 2012 Ontario Legislature Toronto” by Priscilla Jordão, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.
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