What’s in Ontario's COVID-19 back-to-school plan?
Safety was the focus of a number of back-to-school announcements in August. The first, a release of the COVID-19: Health, safety and operational guidance for schools (2021-2022) announced by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore including guidelines for things like extracurricular activities and masks, but little information on vaccinations or protocols for COVID outbreaks.
Among the guidelines:
- Buses can operate at full capacity
- Class sizes There is no reference to smaller class sizes, but physical distancing is recommended where possible.
- Co-op education is allowed
- COVID-19 management in schools depends in part on students’ and staffs’ vaccination status, and the updated guidelines for schools include several new protocols:
- Unvaccinated students or staff who have contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days.
- Vaccinated students or staff, or those who have tested positive for COVID in the last 90 days and then been cleared, do not have to isolate if they have contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19
- The Local Public Health Unit should “consider notifying the school’s principal or designate and the Director of Education or designate if a case of COVID-19 is identified in a staff, student, or visitor associated with an elementary or secondary school setting.”
- Principals should develop a communication plan and provide training to staff focused on outbreak prevention and managing concerns.
- Principals should report to the local Public Health Unit when there is sufficient concern that a student or staff member may have COVID-19.
- Community use of schools is permitted
- EQAO testing returns for grades 3, 6, and 9. The tests are in a digital format, but must be completed in person at the school. Students learning remotely can come to school to do them at the “discretion of the school board.” The Secondary School Literacy test will return in 2022-23.
- Extracurricular activities are permitted, including most inter-school sports
- Field trips, including overnight trips are allowed
- Health and physical education:
- Initially, the guidance said high-contact activities are only permitted outdoors, but the province has subsequently changed that to allow them indoors. It is unclear if masks will be required.
- Low contact activities are permitted indoors. Masking is encouraged but not required with as much physical distancing as possible.
- School swimming pools are permitted, with physical distancing encouraged.
- Masks are required for students from Grades 1 to 12, and for all staff
- Mental health is named as a priority area. Among other things, the plan suggests that boards work with partners, take a tiered approach, focus on attendance, and plan for remote delivery of services if It also points to the resources available from School Mental Health Ontario.
- Music programs are allowed – with distancing where possible
- Shared spaces may be used (e.g libraries, cafeterias, computer rooms) with attention to physical distancing.
- School assemblies permitted with distancing between cohorts.
- Special education – no details on additional funding but guidance to school boards to “consider additional planning and transition time for students with special education needs to support a smooth transition.”
- Ventilation upgrades should be in place for all rooms and additional funding has been provided.
- Vaccination – no details except to say that “School boards are encouraged to work with local public health units to reach out to families to promote vaccination.”
- Volunteer hours – secondary students will only be required to complete 20 hours this year, but the mandatory hours will return to 40 in 2022-23.
Read Ontario’s Guidance for Schools, School Boards and School Authorities to operate during the 2021-2022 school year.