Ontario Releases Back-to-School Guidance for a Safe Return to In-Person Learning

Published on August 03, 2021

MISSISSAUGA – Today, our government unveiled its Back to School guidance for a safe return to full-time, in-person learning this fall. Based on the latest public health data, we are working with school boards, students and parents to provide cautious but balanced health and safety protocols.

With the return of in-person learning, students will be able to benefit from in-person interactions with their friends and teachers, all while following public health guidelines. It will also allow for a more normal school year with extracurricular activities, like sports and field trips – critical to the mental health and well-being of students.

“I’m extremely excited for kids to return back to the classrooms in-person, enabling them to grow academically and emotionally through interactions with their teachers and peers and with the resumption of extracurriculars” said MPP Deepak Anand. “I’m confident with the measures put in place, we can have a happy, healthy, and safe return to in-person learning across Mississauga-Malton.”

While public health indicators give us reason for optimism, COVID-19 continues to pose a threat. By making available more than $1.6 billion in COVID-19 resources to school boards for this coming year, our government is working to keep kids safe and healthy. This is in addition to $85.5 million to support learning recovery in math and reading, and a $561 million increase in the Grants for Student Needs (GSN). This will provide schools with access to student mental health supports, the hiring of additional staff, school-focused nurses in public health units, remote learning technology, etc.

Locally for example, the Peel District School Board has already upgraded to hospital-grade MERV13 air filters, installed 1140 new standalone filtration units in areas such as portals, and has reprogrammed the building automation systems (BAS) for HVAC and ventilation systems to maximize the amount of fresh air entering the building.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education will work with local Medical Officers of Health (MOHs) to constantly assess if health and safety measures need to be adjusted to reflect the ground realities at schools. Furthermore, local MOHs have their own powers under the Health Promotion and Protection Act that can be used to address outbreaks or COVID-19 risks in schools.

If you have any questions or concerns about the program, feel free to contact our Office at (905) 696 0367 or email us at [email protected].

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Summary of Back-to-School Guidelines:

Introduction:

  • Elementary and secondary students will return in-person, five days a week, for the full 300 minutes of instruction per day.
  • Remote learning remains an option, and there are requirements for Boards to provide access to devices.
  • Elementary students will remain in one cohort for the full day, whereas secondary students can take no more than 2 courses at a given time.
  • Students may use common spaces (cafeterias, libraries), and members of different cohorts can interact outside with encourage distancing, or inside with distancing and masking.

Protective Strategies:

  • Screening:
    • All staff and students must self-screen every day before returning to school.
    • The Ministry may ask Boards to perform on-site confirmation of self-screening, at which point students will need to show proof
  • Masking:
    • Students in Grades 1-12 need to wear masks indoors in schools, with the exceptions of during low-contact physical activity or when consuming food or drink
    • Students are not required to wear masks outdoors
  • Staff PPE:
    • Boards will continue to provide school staff and bus drivers with the required PPE
  • Hand hygiene and etiquette:
    • Schools should train students on appropriate hand hygiene, and should incorporate these at regular intervals throughout the school day
    • Soap and water are the preferred method
  • Distancing:
    • Distancing should always be promoted, especially between cohorts
    • Desks should face forward instead of in circles or in groups
    • Schools should develop arrival and departure procedures, including using visual cues on walls or hallways, that facilitate distancing
  • Recess:
    • Students do not need to stay within their cohort during recess, but distancing is encouraged
    • Shared materials outdoors are permitted, given the risk of transmission is low
  • Cleaning and disinfection:
    • Boards should develop a program for cleaning and disinfecting schools
    • Recommendation to use products that simultaneously clean and disinfect, and to use them on high-touch surfaces at least twice daily
  • Shared spaces:
    • Shared homerooms, libraries, computer labs, and cubbies/lockers is permitted
    • Masking and distancing as much as possible is recommended when cohorts interact
  • Cafeterias:
    • Students may eat together outdoors without distancing, and indoors with as much distancing as possible within cohorts
    • Capacity limits for cafeterias should be established to enable 2m distancing between cohorts
  • Assemblies:
    • Permitted, including peer support programs such as “reading buddies”

Student Transportation:

  • School buses can operate at full capacity, and windows should be opened when possible
  • Masks are required for Grades 1-12 on school vehicles
  • Students should be assigned seats to assist with contact tracing

Ventilation:

  • For parts of schools without mechanical ventilation (ex. portables), Boards are expected to place HEPA filters to allow for filtration
  • Boards are expected to have all ventilation inspection systems inspected, use the highest-grade filters possible, undertake frequent filter changes, and operate ventilation systems 2 hours before and after school hours
  • Boards are encouraged to support outdoor education where possible

Vaccination:

  • Highly recommended as high vaccination rates may allow measures to be reduced over time

Mental Health and Student Supports:

  • Boards should continue to collaborate with child and youth mental health agencies
  • Recovery programs must target students who experience greater barriers to access, to allow all students to catch up
  • “School Mental Health Ontario” and the Ministry will provide Boards with comprehensive back to school resources for educators

Specific Academic Programming:

  • Co-Operative Education: In-person coops are preferable to virtual coops where possible
  • Music: Wind instruments, among others, as well as singing, is permitted in areas with high ventilation
  • Phys Ed: High-contact activities are permitted outdoors and indoors; low-contact activities can be done indoors with masking encouraged but not required
  • Field Trips: Permitted, assuming daily records are kept, and that students are cohorted
  • EQAO: Done in-person at school, but in a digital format for Grades 3, 6, and 9
  • OSSLT: The literacy graduation requirement is waived for upcoming graduates only
  • Community Services Hours: Reduced from 40 hours to 20 hours for the next academic year only

Extracurriculars & Community Programming:

  • Clubs, sports teams, and extracurriculars are permitted – indoors with masking and distancing, and outdoors with distancing encouraged
  • Boards can resume using schools for the community