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Ontario Premier Doug Ford during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on June 2, 2021. Ontario has had the longest interruption to in-person classes in Canada.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s back-to-school plan will be announced early next week, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday.

Mr. Ford shared the news during a visit to Thunder Bay, Ont., where he met with local leaders to discuss the continuing wildfires that have forced thousands from their homes.

“It’s a very comprehensive plan and we’re making sure that we increase the protocols to make sure the two million kids that are going back to school are going to be safe, as well as the teachers, changing everything from HEPA filters to making sure they have proper ventilation in the schools,” Mr. Ford said.

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“We’re going to make sure they’re back in school at the beginning of September.”

Improved air quality was one of the recommendations of the province’s advisory group of science experts, who also called for schools to remain open in all but the most catastrophic scenarios.

Ontario has had the longest interruption to in-person classes in Canada.

The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has said that he wants a conservative, safe opening of schools and that the plan has a significant amount of prevention factored in. Dr. Kieran Moore has said he is concerned about a rise in cases in the fall owing to a surging Delta variant.

The science experts recommended reinstating extracurricular activities, and loosening rules on masking, distancing, cohorting, screening and exclusion when the risk is low – which does not yet describe Ontario’s situation, they say.

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario released an open letter to Mr. Ford on Wednesday, urging him to include improved ventilation, mandatory indoor masking, smaller class sizes, mandatory vaccination of teachers and permanent employment status for 625 public-health nurse positions in Ontario schools.

“RNAO is concerned about the lack of action on ventilation: an essential measure to keep people safe who are indoors,” the association said in its letter.

“Our concern is the lack of political will and sense of urgency to implement investments in school infrastructure that are necessary and costly, take time, and have traditionally not been seen as a priority.”

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