KITCHENER -- Waterloo Region's public and Catholic school boards are among those in Ontario that will see high school students attend classes in a hybrid model this fall.

On Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford announced the provincial government's plans for back-to-school in September.

Elementary and middle school students will return to school as normal, with mandated non-medical or cloth masks for kids in Grade 4 or above, though reasonable exceptions will be put in place by each school board.

Students who are younger than that will also be encouraged to wear face masks in common spaces, while masks will also be given to teachers and other school staff.

As for secondary schools, Waterloo Region's English-speaking school boards are on a list of 24 that will "open on an adapted model, with class cohorts of approximately 15 students, attending on alternate days, or alternate schedules that would represent in person attendance for at least 50 per cent of instructional days," a document from the province explains.

The Waterloo Region District School Board and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board had both been developing plans for three possible returns to school: a full-time in-person return, a full-time remote learning return, or a hybrid of the two.

Other secondary schools, typically those with lower enrollment numbers, will be allowed to have students in every day.

According to documents from the province, the French school boards operating schools in Waterloo Region will have their secondary students return daily and with normal-sized classes. Those schools include École secondaire catholique Père-René-de-Galinée and École secondaire David-Saint-Jacques, which are run by Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir and Conseil scolaire viamonde, respectively.

The following school boards in CTV Kitchener's coverage area will also have their high school students returning full-time:

  • Avon Maitland DSB
  • Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic DSB
  • Bruce Grey Catholic DSB
  • Grand Erie DSB
  • Huron Perth Catholic DSB
  • Upper Grand DSB
  • Wellington Catholic DSB

The province says that it will employ a number of strategies to make sure that schools are healthy and safe for those within them. Those strategies include self-screening, hand hygiene, having students in cohorts, distancing and limiting visitors in schools.

In order to help implement these changes, the provincial government announced it would be providing more than $300 million in funding.

The funding is divided as follows:

  • $60M for masks and PPE
  • $80M for additional staffing
  • $25M for cleaning supplies
  • $10M for health and safety training
  • $40M for transportation (cleaning supplies and PPE)
  • $23.7M for increased testing capacity
  • $50M for additional public health nurses
  • $10M for more mental health supports
  • $10M in support for students with special needs

Parents will be allowed to make decisions on whether or not their children will return to class in person. They'll have the option of remote learning instead, which will be taught by school boards.

The first day of school for the next school year will be Sept. 8.

There have been 1,385 cases of COVID-19 in Waterloo Region, and nearly 40,000 across the province.