Some back-to-school details released, more forthcoming, as province continues to make masks mandatory for students

No details on what happens in case of an outbreak

Parents are getting a look at what school will look like for their kids this fall, with the Ontario Government releasing part of its back-to-school plan.

The Ministry of Education released a 26-page guiding document on Tuesday that indicates elementary and secondary students will attend school in person this September, for the first time in months. Masks will be mandatory for all students from Grades 1 to 12 while indoors and are recommended for kindergarten kids. Students will be separated into cohorts for their classes, while all staff and students must self-screen for illness every morning.

Extracurricular activities will be permitted in areas with adequate ventilation, while inter-school sports will be allowed. High-contact physical activities must take place outdoors. Field trips and assemblies will resume.

“It’s great news for our kids. They will be back with their classmates where they can get back to activities like music, and theatre, and sport, and develop those friendships that can last a lifetime,” said Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore. “This is crucially important to their mental, physical and social well-being. But it’s also important to do so cautiously and carefully.”

Simcoe County District School Board chairperson Jodi Lloyd was briefed on the announcement along with her provincial counterparts during a conference call with Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Lloyd told Barrie 360 she welcomes the return of some extracurricular activities. “They’re very important to students, and they will contribute significantly to the school experience, though not all will be returning,” she noted.

Lloyd said the example used by Lecce was basketball, which is considered a high-risk sport for indoors and will only be played outside. Much of what was laid out by the minister in terms of masking of students from Grades 1 to 12 and cohorting of students, said Lloyd, are safety measures that were in place last year.

Lloyd said Lecce stressed what was announced today was for the fall and the government was hoping to adjust these measures on a regional basis as the school year moves forward. “Based upon case counts, vaccination rates, which are critical to this, hospital utilization and all of those metrics that they’re (government) reviewing on an ongoing basis,” explained Lloyd.

One key piece of the COVID-19 puzzle missing from Tuesday’s announcement were protocols for school boards in case of an outbreak. Lloyd said health officials who were part of today’s meeting indicated they are working on outbreak management guidelines. “That will be the protocol for when an individual does test positive or there is a case of COVID and how we move forward with that.”

She said that will delineate between those that are vaccinated and those that are unvaccinated.

Remote learning will remain an option for Ontario students.

The Simcoe County District School Board has over 53,000 students and Lloyd said there are about 2,000 of them who will be returning online.

In an email to Barrie 360, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board chairperson Joe Zerdin said they are carefully reviewing the details of the memo from the Ontario Ministry of Education, outlining their back-to-school plan.

“We will draft our board-specific plan over the next few weeks and communicate with our staff and families,” said Zerdin. “Everyone at the board is excited to welcome our students back to classrooms in September and will do everything needed to make that happen safely, following all guidelines put in place by our local health unit and the Ministry. Parents and students should continue to enjoy the remainder of the summer, and be confident that we are working on a plan for a safe return to school.”

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca is not impressed with what the government has put on the table. “Today’s announcement has made clear what we already know to be true — Doug Ford isn’t following the science, and isn’t planning for a safe or supportive return to in-person learning,” Del Duca said in a statement.

“More than one month ago, Ontario Liberals proposed a real plan to get our kids back in classrooms safely and with the support they need. The plan called for a cap on class sizes at 20, prioritized in-person learning, more mental health support, more support for kids with special needs, and suspending the 2022 EQAO testing.”

He said the Liberals are the only party with the courage to follow the science on mandatory vaccinations for frontline workers in education and healthcare, something he added Premier Doug Ford and New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath are against.

In a statement, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Doug Ford’s refusal to make investments into student and staff safety in schools this September is rolling the dice with kids’ wellbeing – risking outbreaks and at-home learning days and risking kids’ academic and emotional recovery.

“Ontario should be doing everything possible to protect students and staff, and prevent in-school learning from being disrupted by outbreaks or exposures,” said Horwath. “But Doug Ford is cutting $800 million from schools for this school year, which means penny-pinching on the safety plan. He’s allowing jam-packed classrooms again. He’s not taking any new actions to get kids vaccinated or help them recover, academically or emotionally. He’s rolling the dice with our kids’ wellbeing.”

Public Health Ontario reported two sets of numbers Tuesday morning, to make up for a lack of reporting on the Civic Holiday; Ontario reported 164 new cases of COVID-19 for today and 168 for yesterday. As of yesterday, over 19.5 million vaccine doses have been administered.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reported 9 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, in its first update since Friday. There were also 4 additional recoveries and no new deaths. To date, 69.2% of Simcoe-Muskoka residents 18+ have gotten their first shot, 57.8% their second.