TORONTO – Masking, self-screening, music programming, group lunches, gym classes, team sports, field trips and extra-curriculars are all on the calendar for a fall return to in-person learning.
New guidance to school boards was provided in a 29-page document released by the province on Aug. 3 and discussed by the province’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Keiran Moore at a press conference on Tuesday.
“Our goal is to have a safe reopening of our schools that lasts the entire academic year,” Moore said.
He added that following masking, hand hygiene and other public health measures will “support healthy and safe school environments.”
Students in Grades 1 through 12 will have to mask up with non-medical/cloth masks inside schools and school buses, while staff are required to wear medical or surgical level masks.
Kindergarten students are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks at any time.
Non-medical three-ply masks will be provided to students by schools if needed.
Masks don’t need to be worn when eating or during low-contact physical activity indoors and do not need to be worn outdoors.
Vaccinations remain voluntary for staff and students, but vaccination status will directly affect an individual student’s isolation period should they encounter a COVID-positive person.
Moore previously stated during a July 27 provincial COVID-19 update that non- or partially-vaccinated students coming in contact with a COVID-19 case would have to potentially isolate at home for upwards of 20 days.
However, fully-vaccinated students can immediately return to the classroom and would only be required to isolate should a COVID-19 test return positive.
The main distinction between the two vaccination groups, is whether a student can immediately return to the classroom after a COVID-19 encounter.
Fully-vaccinated students can immediately return to class and self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, taking a test if symptoms show or on day seven during the self-monitoring stage.
Non- or partially-vaccinated students don’t have the option of immediately returning to school and must self-isolate at home. A COVID-19 test is taken if symptoms show or on day seven of a minimum 14 day isolation period.
If a student’s test returns positive for COVID-19, they have to isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.
Students and staff are required to self-screen for COVID-19 before entering schools using a daily checklist provided by school boards.
When indoors, students in Kindergarten to Grade 8 will be grouped in cohorts for full school days and, if possible, with a single teacher.
Libraries and cafeterias will be accessible. Different cohorts are still able to interact indoors with masking and distancing in place.
On recess breaks students aren’t required to remain in cohorts or wear masks.
High school students will need to maintain two metres of distance between groups eating in cafeterias.
Clubs, sports teams, bands, and physical education have all been given the go-ahead from the province.
Indoor music programming, including singing and playing wind instruments, are permitted with distancing and adequate ventilation.
Low-contact physical activity can take place indoors (without masking) but high-contact activity is only permitted outdoors with optional masking.
Day and overnight trips can occur with the province recommending students be cohorted and daily movement be recorded for contact tracing.
Keeping schools open
The province is instructing school boards to limit high school students to a maximum of two courses at a time “in order to preserve the option of reverting to more restrictive measures.
However, Dr. Moore said he couldn’t “envision or see any closure of any schools” across the province, saying “We must maintain them open going forward.”
Moore added, “I think we have to normalize COVID-19 for schools and have an approach that’s prudent, that’s cautious, but that realizes, ‘yep we’re gonna have a rise in cases,’ but we’re going to adhere to the best practices to minimize the spread and to keep our communities safe.”