Back-to-school plan allows more activities, retains public health measures

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore answers questions at Queen’s Park August 3 after the release of Ontario’s back-to-school plan for the fall. (Government of Ontario via CPAC)

TORONTO – A month before students return to school in September, the province released its guide to reopening schools Tuesday afternoon (August 3).

The 26-page guide outlines many of the requirements for back-to-school this fall, with much of the public health measures from the 2020-21 school year remaining in place.

“Having measures in place means that kids get back to class, go on field trips, and socially interact with their friends with confidence,” said Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore. “These measures will help us to ensure that that we have a safe and sustained reopening of our schools in the fall.”

Key in the provincial document is a resumption of full-time, five-day-per-week in-class instruction for all grades. Remote learning options are still allowed. School boards must also have a plan for quickly flipping to remote learning if the need arises such as a localized COVID-19 outbreak or a large-scale public health emergency is declared.

Daily self-screening of students and staff is required, and in some cases daily active screening at schools will be required, especially after returning from a holiday weekend. Vaccinations for those who can receive a vaccine are encouraged but there is no vaccinate mandate for students or staff. Vaccination records are not being tracked either.

Masks, cohorting, and physical distancing measures indoors will remain the same for the new school year, however there will be more use of common areas like cafeterias, gyms, and other spaces.

Students from Grade 1 to 12 are required to wear face masks indoors except eating food or in low-contact phys-ed activities. Masks are not required outside on the playground, and while distancing is “encouraged”, cohorts can play together on the school yard. Kindergarten students are encouraged to wear masks but are not required to do so.

School staff will continue to wear PPE when teaching or working with students, but teachers can move from class-to-class when needed.

For secondary school students, EQAO testing will resume, and students with co-op or Specialist High Skills Major training requirements or placements can once again be in-person and on-site. Before and after school programs can also resume so long as public health guidance is followed.

Cafeterias, libraries, and other areas can reopen and be used again. Food service in cafeterias, school breakfast and lunch programs, and third-party food programs can all restart as well.

As the province focuses on personal “hand hygiene” and “respiratory etiquette”, shared materials in classrooms, lockers, cubbies and computer labs are also allowed in the 2021-22 school year.

Extracurricular indoor activities like clubs can start again, as well as low-contact indoor sports. High-contact sports are only allowed indoors and outdoors with no masking is required. Inter-school sports leagues can resume with restrictions.

Assemblies with physical distancing and masking are allowed, as are visitors to schools again. Community use of indoor school space can also resume, as can field trips.

There are no changes for school transportation from the 2020-21 school year. There will still be assigned seating, masks required, frequent cleanings and PPE for bus drivers.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to make a formal government announcement about this back-to-school plan on August 4.

A copy of the 26-page is available to download here.

*Editor’s Note* – This story was updated on August 4th following a change by the Ministry of Education to allow high-contact indoor sports to resume under the new reopening plan.

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