Families in Simcoe County got a first look at the Ontario government’s back-to-school plans this fall.
Elementary and secondary students will return to in-person learning at school in September with what the government calls multiple strategies and overlaying controls to support the health and safety of students and staff.
Primary and secondary students will return to class five days a week; adding distance learning will remain an option for families who do not feel comfortable returning to the classroom.
As for the 2020-2021 school year, masks will be compulsory from grades 1 to 12. However, masks will remain optional but recommended for kindergarten students.
In the 26-page plan, the government says school boards must have plans for potential closures so all students can transition to distance learning.
Protection strategies for students include self-testing every day before going to school.
Any student or staff member showing symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home away from school.
School boards may be required to perform daily on-site screening during periods of higher transmission, that is, after a vacation period.
Students are expected to stay in a cohort for the full day, with a teacher if possible. Libraries and common areas can be used by students this year.
Students can mix with other cohorts inside schools, provided distancing and masking protocols are in place. Outside, students are allowed to mix cohorts as long as social distancing policies of at least two meters are followed.
Students will resume with two courses at a time for the fall semester.
Some school boards may implement a modified term; exceptions can be made for small schools where contact may be limited by cohort classes.
Masks, PPE, social distancing and other regulations
Masks must be worn inside the school, during lessons and on school vehicles.
Masks are not mandatory outdoors, but social distancing is encouraged.
Masks can be removed to eat, drink, or engage in low-contact physical activity.
School staff will continue to receive and wear PPE.
Staff are not required to wear masks outdoors or when eating and drinking, provided they can maintain a distance of two meters.
Hand hygiene continues to be important in schools. Staff are encouraged to increase the use of soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Social distancing remains a priority, and schools are encouraged to move desks away, face forward, and remove unnecessary furniture.
It is also not recommended to gather in the corridors, the student movements being staggered.
Food programs, Assemblies, visitors and extracurriculars
Third party food programs can come back to schools.
Assemblies and other school gatherings are permitted as long as they meet provincial capacity limits under the Ontario Reopening Act.
Visitors should follow self-testing guidelines and wear a mask unless individual public health units restrict access.
School vehicles will be able to circulate at full capacity. However, the province says vehicle capacity for elementary school students should be reduced where possible.
The seat behind the driver should be left empty, which will help maintain a physical distance between the students and the driver.
The province encourages active modes of travel such as walking or cycling where possible to ease the pressure on transportation demand.
Health and physical education
The use of gymnasiums, swimming pools, weight rooms, indoor physical education equipment and shared outdoor equipment will be permitted for elementary and secondary school students as long as physical distancing is possible.
Night and day trips will be permitted and should follow provincial reopening guidelines.
Students should be grouped throughout trips with the number of cohorts based on the number of students and staff.
Daily records for those entering the program will be required to maintain proper contact tracing.
Extracurricular activities and inter-school sports activities
Extracurricular activities such as sports teams, clubs and groups (excluding wind instruments) will be permitted.
High contact activities are only permitted outdoors and a mask will not be required. Low-contact activities will also be permitted for outdoor inter-school sports without a mask.
Low contact activities are permitted indoors. Masking will be encouraged but will not be mandatory for low contact physical activities if a physical distance can be maintained between individuals who are not in the same cohort.