The Peel District School Board (PDSB) is making masks mandatory for students in Grades 1 to 12, reducing class sizes by hiring extra teachers and may see a delayed start to the school year as classes resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an update on its website Friday, the board announced students will be required to wear masks while indoors at schools, including in classrooms and hallways. Masks are also strongly recommended for kindergarten students, per the advice of Peel Public Health.
The board says it will also be accessing up to $36 million in reserve funding unlocked recently by Ontario's education ministry in part to hire additional elementary and secondary school teachers to bring down class sizes.
The board will also use the reserve funds to bring on more custodial staff, enhance ventilation, purchase cleaning supplies, implement health and safety training, provide special education and mental health supports as well as for distance learning.
The update goes on to say the board is looking into staggering students' return to the classroom, but that further details will be shared after a decision is made.
Of the approximately 81 per cent of families who have indicated their back-to-school plans to the board, just 26 per cent say they will attend class through distance learning only. That totals about 40,000 students, 30 per cent of elementary students and 17 per cent of secondary students.
"As you can imagine, this presents us with a monumental task, as a structure to support PDSB Online School does not currently exist," the board said.
"Building a meaningful, culturally responsive and relevant distance learning experience for this many students with diverse learning needs and identities who have already been impacted in disproportionate ways is a key priority for the PDSB."
As a result, there may be a delay to the start of the school year for students attending school online.
Students attending in person may also be delayed "given the time and consideration required to carefully build cohorts, organize classes and prepare for a safe reopening."
The board says it expects to share more details with parents by early next week.
The update comes just one day after the Toronto District School Board approved a plan to make masks mandatory in its schools as well as to lower class sizes, particularly in communities at heightened risk of COVID-19.