The Government of Ontario announced a back-to-school plan on Tuesday that will allow students to return to the classroom full-time for the first time in months.
The 26-page plan, released by the Ministry of Education, outlines many of the rules and restrictions that students and staff will face this fall. It also offers remote learning to continue for those who do not feel comfortable sending their children back into the classroom.
Students in grades 1 through 12 will be required to wear masks in hallways, classrooms, and on school vehicles. There will be no capacity limits on school buses. Masks can be removed when partaking in physical activity or consuming food and drink. Those in kindergarten will have the option to wear a mask, and masks will not be required outdoors.
Grades 1 through 8 will have students remain in one cohort with one teacher, with members of different cohorts only allowed to interact either outside with physical distancing encouraged or inside with distancing and masks. Specialized staff, such as French teachers, will be allowed to go into multiple classrooms when necessary. Common areas like cafeterias and libraries can be used, and school assemblies will be permitted. Field trips will also be allowed.
High school students will be given no more than two courses at one time, with exceptions made for small schools where students can be cohorted by grade.
Sports and clubs are allowed to resume, with distancing encouraged. Inter-school sports will be allowed, but high-contact sports must take place outdoors. Music programs will be allowed in well-ventilated areas with physical distancing.
Students will be trained on how to wash their hands and practice proper respiratory etiquette. Schools will also need to prepare an arrival and departure plan to avoid crowding.
Students will no longer have to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival. Instead, parents will screen their children for a list of symptoms at home.
School boards will be responsible for cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and monitoring air quality in the classroom. Schools with existing mechanical ventilation systems will be required to use the highest grade filters possible.
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The plans, however, while lengthy, did not address many questions that parents and staff have, including rules for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children and what will be done in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at a school. The government says that this information is still “forthcoming.”
Previously, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said that unvaccinated children would face different isolation requirements if they come in contact with someone with COVID-19.
School boards are required to plan for potential closures and must have a remote learning plan in place. Remote learning may be enacted for snow days or days where it’s too hot for students to go to school in person.