Back-to-School plans in Ontario released last week

What to expect for the 2021-2022 school year 

Last week the Ontario government released their back-to-school plan for September. The 26-page plan, which Doug Ford previously promised to release in July, covers the guidelines of what is expected of students and staff.    

Ontario students will be required to wear a properly fitted non-medical or cloth mask in school hallways, classrooms and vehicles. Both elementary and secondary students will attend school five days per week, with elementary students sorted into cohorts. Cohorts will be allowed to interact with each other, with physical distancing encouraged. School boards have been instructed to timetable secondary students, with no more than two in-person courses at a time.

Masks will not be required outdoors and remain optional, though recommended, for kindergarten students. 

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Kieran Moore, said in a news briefing last Tuesday that he’s happy schools will resume in-person learning but emphasized everyone to remain thoughtful of safety measures. 

“This is crucially important to their mental, physical and social well-being. But it’s also important to do so cautiously and carefully, so we will need to maintain some level of public-health measures for now.”

Both staff and students will be required to self-screen every day for symptoms before arriving at school. Those individuals who do experience symptoms must not attend school and will have to get tested. School staff and visitors will be required to wear medical-grade masks, with eye protection recommended for staff. 

This is the first time since April, when the third wave hit the province hard, that students will be attending school for in-person learning. Many COVID-19 safety measures will remain in place (such as signs to reinforce self-screening, hygiene practices, and safe physical distancing; hand sanitizer at key locations; rules of entry and exiting buildings) but certain activities, which were previously not permitted, are now being allowed:

  • Clubs, academic activities, sport teams, and extracurriculars will be permitted with appropriate physical distancing 
  • Inter-school sports will allow high contact activities outdoors (but not indoors) and masking is not required
  • Day trips and overnight stays will be permitted as long as there are screenings for COVID-19 symptoms 
  • Music programs will be allowed indoors (singing and wind instruments permitted with adequate ventilation and when physical distancing within cohorts is possible)

The plan only briefly mentions vaccinations, stating that it is an "important tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19" and that “school boards are encouraged to work with local public health units to reach out to families to promote vaccination.” 

The Science Advisory Table’s recommendation for vaccine status to be reported to schools was not mentioned. In July, however, Moore did say that unvaccinated students would face different isolation requirements if they came into contact with a positive case. 

While the plan aims to prepare students and staff for in-person classes to resume, families are still allowed to continue remote learning. School boards are expected to be prepared for potential closures and have plans in place if students who attend school will need to pivot back to remote learning.

Right now the section on managing cases and outbreaks in the plan is still “forthcoming,” but will be built on previous guidelines. 

A summary of the report can be found here. 

As we get closer to September, remember to stay tuned to Covergalls! We are busy preparing ourselves, and our customers, for back-to-school season.

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