Health & Safety

Ontario School Reopening Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Ontario’s school reopening plan has been announced — it contains both guidelines, suggestions, and room for exceptions that try to accommodate every reopening scenario in the province.

Since CrowdBlink Protect has been at the forefront of simplified Covid-19 screening tools for child care centers already, we’ve also simplified Ontario’s lengthy school reopening guidelines — if you’re impacted, you’ll be able to get up to speed quickly and know what to expect.

The Ontario Premier’s Office announcement focused on addressing some key issues:

  • What will reopening look like at elementary schools compared to secondary schools?
  • What are the new health and safety measures when it comes to masks, reduced cohorts, physical distancing, screening and contact tracing?
  • What are some of the additional resources being allocated to help schools implement the new guidelines?

As the data shows, Ontario has seen success in flattening the curve. Only time will tell, but the school reopening guidelines issued by the provincial government may be a good model for other regions looking to have kids back in school come September. 

Ontario’s Health and Safety Guidelines for Reopening Schools: Overview

The steps being taken to ensure health and safety at schools are outlined in extensive detail in the official guide to reopening schools. In summary, the measures being adopted include:

Self screening

Both staff and students will be required to self-screen before entering the school or a school bus.

Adapted school environments

Environments will be changed to ensure as much physical distancing as possible.

Hand hygiene

Increased hand washing, more education and awareness of the need to wash hands.

Masking

Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear masks, with reasonable exceptions. Staff will be provided with medical masks. Students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required to wear masks.

Cohorting

In most cases, the number of direct and indirect contacts a student may have with other students will be limited to around 100 in the overall school environment, with in-class cohorts limited to approximately 15 students.

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection

Significant increase in the frequency of disinfecting and cleaning schools and school busses, with provincial funds allocated to staffing and supplies.

Limiting visitors in schools

Outside visitors will be significantly limited, or even prohibited — including parents.

Pre-registration

School boards will be asking students to pre-register, and may enforce strict cut-off deadlines in order to accommodate the controlled reopening conditions.

This direction of Ontario’s school reopening guide is informed by the rules for areas in Stage 3 of reopening, as outlined in the Reopening Ontario Act

Elementary School Reopening vs. Secondary School Reopening in Ontario

Ontario’s school reopening guidelines are different depending on whether you’re an elementary school or a secondary school. Here’s what they look like:

Elementary School Reopening

For elementary school children in Kindergarten up to Grade 8, the guidelines are less restrictive:

  • School attendance 5 days a week.
  • 300 minutes of instruction per day.
  • When possible, cohorted classes stay together with one teacher the whole day.
  • Remaining in one cohort for the whole day, as well as during recess and lunch.
  • Students are allowed to leave classrooms, but direct and indirect contact is limited to 50.

Secondary School Reopening

While the process of teaching in secondary schools will change, the changes will be adapted to meet the full requirements of earning a school credit for a 110-hour course, as set out by the Ministry of Education.

Whereas in the “conventional model” schools provide at least 5 hours of instruction per day, some school boards will have to switch to an adapted model — meeting the full 110 instruction hours required through a combination of in-person and remote learning, both real-time as well as asynchronous instruction.

Furthermore, different school boards here will have different reopening guidelines. Ontario’s government has given 24 school boards designated status for reopening, instructing them with different requirements. School board designation is determined by their size, size of their schools, size of cohorts, and whether they are predominantly urban.

Designated Secondary School Guidelines

Designated secondary schools in Ontario will reopen under an adapted model, which means:

  • Class cohorts of around 15 students.
  • Attendance will be on alternating days.
  • At least 50% of instructional days will be held in-class.
List of designated school boards:

Non-designated Secondary School Guidelines

Non-designated secondary schools will be able to reopen with the conventional delivery. Added health and safety measures such as increased hand washing and frequent surface disinfection will also be put in place.

For further details about each school, you can also get the full list of Ontario’s school boards here, and check each school board’s website specifically.

Screening and Contact Tracing Requirements for Ontario Schools

Ontario reopening guidelines also lay out comprehensive screening, monitoring, and reporting requirements to help with contact tracing and prevent Covid-19’s spread. These include:

  • All staff conduct a daily self-screening before attending the school.
  • Anyone (staff or student) showing symptoms of Covid-19 should be immediately isolated until they are able to go home.
  • Staff, parents, and children who take a self-assessment and test positive are not allowed to return to school until cleared by health guidelines.
  • Schools must keep daily records, including seating charts, bus cohorts, and any approved visitors each day, including supply teachers or custodians.
  • Records must be readily available to public health for contact tracing.
  • Suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 must be immediately reported to a public health unit.
  • The records that are kept must also meet Ontario’s privacy legislation.

How to Follow Ontario’s School Reopening Guidelines

As the guidelines are being released, every school will need to figure out how to adhere to them.

What are some of the recommendations?

Covid-19 Workplace Safety Plan

One recommendation explicit in the provincial guide is that schools follow the Covid-19 Workplace Safety Plan already set out by the province.

Taking the guidelines from what has already been integral to reducing the spread of Covid-19 is a great strategy — however, what happens in the workplace can’t always be adapted to the more challenging and disruption-prone environments of a school.

The Quadmester

Included in the province’s recommendations was the idea of switching to a “Quadmester” — a different way of structuring classes. While in a conventional semester lasting half of the school year students take 4 classes, a quadmester lasts for a quarter of the school year, and students only take 2 classes during that period.

Tools for easy self-assessment and privacy-compliant reporting

Following the example of child care centers, schools are also turning to technology to help them with self-assessments, screening, contact tracing, and compliance with reopening guidelines. Tools like Protect give educational institutions a fast way to meet the requirements through an easy-to-use mobile app, which eliminates paper and unnecessary person-to-person contact, while also providing the ability to keep all personally identifiable information private. If you’re looking for tools to follow the reopening guidelines at your school, Protect can provide a proven process that has already passed government health inspections.

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