Ontario releases back-to-school plan
Aug. 10, 2021
The Ontario government has released its back-to-school plan.
Students in Ontario heading to class in September will see the return of masks, cohorting, and social distancing. However, music, sports, school assemblies, and other school activities will also return.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said he could not envision any school closures this school year.
It is noted that guidance on managing COVID-19 cases within schools was not released. The ministry has not confirmed whether there will be different protocols in place for vaccinated and unvaccinated children and staff.
“I really don’t see our schools closing going into the fall and winter and spring,” said Dr. Moore. “We will do our utmost to keep our schools open for all students and families. That will take a multi-faceted approach of masking, hand hygiene, distancing, screening on a daily basis, testing and case and contact management and improvements in ventilation.”
Masks will be mandatory for all students indoors in Grades 1 to 12, but they will not be required outdoors. Kindergarten students will be encouraged to wear a mask; however, it will not be mandatory.
Elementary students should expect to return to class five days a week. The document does not stipulate maximum class sizes.
“The principle that we provided to the Ministry of Education was distance as best you can and minimize the number of contacts each student has within a school setting,” said Moore.
He added that where communities have higher vaccination rates, the masking requirement could eventually be removed.
“We’ll start off cautiously if they really don’t see community activity, so it’s below or around 10 per 100,000 cases per week the risk in the school setting would be minimal, and they could together with their school boards, feedback from parents, teachers and children, make a decision not to have mandatory masking in that environment,” said Dr. Moore.
Students in different cohorts will be allowed to interact outside or in common spaces indoors while wearing masks.
Secondary students will only have two classes at a time. However, school boards have been given the option to implement a modified semester approach with an alternating class schedule offering only two classes per week.
Staff and students will still be required to self-screen every day before attending school. Dr. Moore noted there would be fewer requirements for testing.
Moore said they have narrowed down the symptom list to those that are very specific to COVID-19 for children and adults, including fever, cough, increasing shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell.
“So the symptom list is smaller, so the requirement for testing should be fewer, and hopefully the percentage of tests coming back positive would be higher,” said Moore.
Music programs that use singing and wind instruments will be permitted, but the use of wind instruments indoors will only be permitted within a cohort. The use of wind instruments is permitted outdoors in mixed cohorts, with distancing encouraged.
After-school programs, clubs, sports teams, extra-curricular activities and bands (without wind instruments) will all be allowed while maintaining physical distancing.
Inter-school sports activities will also be allowed. High-contact activities will only be allowed outdoors, while low-contact activities can be done indoors. Masking is encouraged but not required for low-contact physical activities.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education will not mandate COVID-19 vaccines for teachers or students.
Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said while they are encouraging all Ontario residents to get vaccinated, the government will not mandate vaccines on any level.
“The government has made a decision in the context of mandating vaccines, and we’re not going to do that; we will respect the choice an individual will make. But at the same time, we can be strong advocates for vaccines as a safe way to reduce risk and allow for a more normal return to class,” said Lecce.
He also indicated that at this time, there would not be a requirement for unvaccinated staff to have frequent rapid tests done.