Province unveils back to school plans, RDSB to unveil Tuesday

Rainbow District School Board

QUEEN’S PARK—Students will be returning to class full-time this September, although remote learning will remain an option under the recently released provincial government plan. The Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) will be unveiling its take on the plan on Tuesday, August 10.

According to the 29-page provincial plan, staff and students Grade 1 and up will be required to wear masks while in indoor settings, with exceptions made for meal breaks and low-contact physical activities. Self-screening will be required before coming into school facilities.

Athletes and coaches will likely rejoice, as team sports, field trips and extracurricular activities will be back on the schedule, as will school assemblies and recess. Students will be able to share toys and art supplies and attend shared spaces such as libraries and cafeterias.

What is missing from the provincial plan are directions or protocols on how to manage COVID-19 outbreaks or any bar determining when schools or classrooms will be shut down.

“Schools are safest where we maintain high rates of community immunity,” Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during a news conference following the unveiling of the plan. The plan does not specify the level of transmission in the school’s community that would trigger changes in a school’s operations.

The plan does indicate that schools should be prepared to move quickly to remote learning for the entire student body “to ensure continuity of learning for students.”

The province is currently investigating testing options, noted Dr. Moore, adding that the list of symptoms of concern are being adjusted to be more COVID-19 specific, such as loss of taste and the options under consideration include swish and spit or less deep nose swabs.

Secondary students will see implementation of timetables with no more than two courses at a time in the fall semester “in order to preserve the option of reverting to more restrictive measures, if needed.”

Music programs will be allowed in areas with good ventilation, with singing and wind instruments permitted in cohorted groups with distancing of at least two metres. 

Teachers’ unions have panned the plan as falling short, with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) calling the provincial government’s plan “incomplete and inadequate.”

“It’s clear that Premier Ford and Minister Lecce are relying on vaccinations alone to provide a safe school reopening and a return to extracurriculars,” said ETFO president Sam Hammond. 

“What they seem to have forgotten is that Ontarians remain at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, and most elementary children are ineligible for vaccines.” 

The union says it wants to see the government lower class sizes to ensure physical distancing, mandate masking for all students including in Kindergarten, provide on-site asymptomatic testing in high-risk settings and immediately reverse an $800-million cut to public education for the upcoming school year.

The plan will not require teachers and staff to take COVID-19 vaccines. 

Students from Grade 1 to Grade 12 must wear masks indoors with the previously mentioned exemptions. Staff and students will be required to screen daily using the provincial tool (some schools will require enhanced screening). Anyone experiencing symptoms should not attend school and seek testing or medical attention. 

Ventilations systems in schools must be inspected and in good condition before school starts and school boards without mechanical ventilation to bring in fresh air will require standalone high efficiency particulate (HEPA) air filters. 

The NDP called on the province to require education workers who are not fully vaccinated to take rapid COVID-19 tests when students head back to school in the fall—but have walked back opposition to requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated.

The full provincial plan can be found at Ontario.ca/page/covid-19-health-and-safety-measures-schools .