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COVID-19 and Schools

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September 14: Parent letter from Medical Officer of Health (English)

September 14: Parent letter from Medical Officer of Health (French)

Getting Back to Child Care and Schools COVID-SMART

A Letter to Parents of School-Aged Children/Youth about Considerations for Returning to School for September 2020

Letter to College Students from St. Lawrence College

COVID-19 School and Child Care Screening Tool

You must screen for COVID-19 every day before your child goes to school. Answer the questions in this provincial screening tool to help you decide if your child should or should not go to school today.

Local School COVID-19 Outbreak Surveillance

Parents, students and staff have an understandable interest in knowing when a COVID-19 positive case has been identified in their school. This page will provide information on COVID-19 activity in a school setting. Outbreaks* and notices of any closures of classes, cohorts or schools will be included on this page. The Government of Ontario provides information about COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres.

In the interest of privacy, information about an individual with COVID-19 will not be provided, nor details of the class or grade affected. We kindly ask that if you know details to refrain from posting these publicly. We all deserve to have our personal health information protected.

Ontario’s Plan to Re-open Schools

On July 30, the Province announced a plan for re-opening schools this September. The province has a comprehensive website outlining the details.

We have been working with the local school boards on their re-opening plans.

Key messages from the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit:

  1. It is important to get children back to school for their social and emotional well-being as well as their learning.
  2. It will be important for parents be aware of the possible symptoms of COVID-19 and learn how to assess their children for symptoms to permit safe attendance at school each day – to protect themselves, other children and staff.
  3. Precautions are planned to be in place including cohorting students, increased hand washing and hand hygiene, cleaning, and mask wearing for students in grade 4 and up. Older students are more likely to be able to use masks effectively.
  4. The Health Unit will be responsible for following up with any student, teacher, or school staff member who has tested positive for COVID-19. Public health staff will also be following up with those who have had close contact with the person who tested positive.

For specific school re-opening information, visit your school board’s website:

For Parents

In addition to the many FAQs below – here is some parent-specific information that might be helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 Screening

Parents must screen their children for COVID-19 every day before getting on a school vehicle or attending school. Parents will be provided with a COVID-19 screening tool to help them make decisions about whether or not to attend school and what to do next. Parents are not required to communicate to the school that they’ve completed the daily screen.

Staff must self-screen before attending work using an acceptable COVID-19 screening tool, such as COVID-19 screening tool. Staff who are experiencing new or worsening symptoms consistent with COVID-19 must not attend school and should seek appropriate medical  attention as required, including getting tested at a COVID-19 Assessment Centre.

The province has developed a COVID-19 screening tool to provide guidance to parents on whether or not it is advised to go to school along with next steps. Not every symptom or situation requires testing and isolation. Parents/students are strongly encouraged to complete this tool daily before going to school and follow the advice. Tip: bookmark this tool online and set a phone reminder to help make it part of your morning routine.

If the screening tool advises testing for your child, they must self-isolate while waiting for testing and the results. The entire household should self-monitor for symptoms but does not need to isolate as well unless the child is considered a high-risk contact of someone who tested positive AND is exhibiting symptoms.

COVID-19 Case Management and Contact Tracing

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is contacted by Public Health and advised that they must self-isolate for 10 days from when their symptoms first started, and until clearance has been received from Public Health.

Public Health will work with the school staff and school transportation authority to identify students and others who were in close contact (less than 2 m) of a case while they were infectious (two days before onset of, and during symptoms) and also identify students and others who may have had a low risk exposure (e.g. same room, always 2m away during the infectious period). To help with contact tracing, the school will provide Public Health with records including attendance, seating charts, bus cohorts, and any approved visitors to the school, including supply/occasional teachers or custodians.

Close contacts/high risk exposures must self-isolate for 14 days and be tested as per Public Health advice. Those who are determined to be a low risk exposure may continue to attend school and must carefully self-monitor for symptoms. At the first sign of possible COVID-19 symptoms, they must self-isolate and go for testing.

If a student or driver tests positive, Public Health will initiate an investigation and review the bus seating charts and will identify and follow up with contacts as per the Public Health assessment. On a school vehicle, high risk exposures will be those who are less than a 2 metre radius from the positive person. On a large bus not everyone may be deemed a close contact or high risk exposure. Only close contacts are required to self- isolate for 14 days. All others on the bus will be considered a low risk exposure and must carefully self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days. At the first sign of possible COVID-19 symptoms, they must stay home from school/work and go for testing. The driver will be wearing a medical mask to protect all the students, so the risk is likely to be low if the driver develops COVID-19 infection.

If a child was determined to be a close contact/high risk exposure then the child must self-isolate for the full 14 days, even if they receive a negative test result.

If a child got tested because they had symptoms and is not a close contact, the child can return to school 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved.

No. Each situation will be carefully assessed by Public Health and decisions will be made based on level of risk. The decision to a close a school would be made under the authority of the local Medical Officer of Health in consultation with the school and school board.

Masks/Face Coverings

No. The Medical Officer of Health Mandatory mask instruction for enclosed public spaces does not apply to “Schools under the Education Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.2, as amended”. This exemption applies to public spaces in individual schools, school boards offices and field sites.

The Ministry of Education has mandated that staff, and students in grades 4 to 12, wear masks. Students in grades 4 and up will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks/face coverings on school vehicles and indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Reasonable exceptions on the requirement to wear masks will apply. Students in kindergarten to grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor spaces. However, the Health Unit is highly recommending that students in JK–3 wear non-medical face coverings/masks while traveling on school vehicles. All school-based staff will be required to wear medical/procedural masks, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions.

According to the SickKids Guidance document, “data from multiple countries suggest that children under 10 years of age are probably less likely to transmit (COVID-19) than older children or adults”. As well, younger children are more likely to use masks improperly, and may not be able to tolerate wearing them for longer periods. While it is not required for students under grade 4 to wear face coverings, it is highly recommended that they wear one when physical distancing is difficult to maintain in enclosed spaces, such as on a school vehicle. 

According to the SickKids Guidance document, “there are emerging data suggesting that children 10 years and older may transmit (COVID-19) at rates similar to those of adults”. Face coverings are an added public health measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19. They help to keep an individual’s own respiratory droplets within the face covering. Older students may be able to wear a face covering for longer periods of time than younger children, without close monitoring. As well, they may be more likely to follow safe practices for wearing them.

Any student in the school environment is welcome to wear a face covering/mask, whether or not they are required for that student population. It is important to note that school aged children and youth should not wear face coverings if: they are not able to remove it on their own; they cannot tolerate it because of a cognitive or mental health issue; or have a medical condition that makes it unsafe for them to wear one, such as breathing difficulties. Safe masking practices are to be reinforced with children and youth before wearing one. Learn how to wear one properly in this infographic.

Students are encouraged to wear non-medical or cloth masks/face coverings. Staff and visitors should wear medical masks (i.e. surgical or procedural). For more details on what to look for when making or choosing a cloth face covering visit our Face Coverings/Masks section.

Non-medical masks/cloth face coverings and medical masks do not offer the same protection. Non-medical masks/face coverings are used for “source control” meaning they protect the people around the person with the mask and not the person themselves. They act to keep an individual’s own respiratory secretions contained within the cloth face covering. Medical masks (i.e. surgical or procedural) are personal protective equipment. They provide protection from both the respiratory secretions of others as well as protecting others from their respiratory secretions. Procedural and surgical masks are not N95-Grade equipment, which is a specific device reserved for medical aerosolized interventions.

Outdoor times like recess can be used as opportunities for students to have breaks from wearing masks within their cohorts. Masks may also be removed if a student is at least 2m apart from other students (e.g. while at their desks). Students would be required to put the mask back on if they move around and are close to other students (e.g. get up from their desks). In addition, students may take off their masks when performing vigorous physical activity and while eating and drinking.

Students can store their masks/face coverings on a hook attached to their desks, hanging it by the ear loop. A used mask/face covering may also be stored in a clean container until ready to use again. Disposable masks should be thrown out in a proper garbage bin and not reused or recycled.

The following students’/staff should not wear a mask/face covering:

  • Children under the age of two;
  • Individuals with medical conditions that make them unable to safely wear a mask, including breathing difficulties or cognitive difficulties;
  • Anyone who is unable to remove it without assistance.

A non-medical face covering can be the disposable type or made of cloth. A cloth face covering/mask should be made of at least 2 layers of tightly woven material such as cotton or linen. Face coverings/masks should allow for easy breathing, fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops, be comfortable and not require frequent adjustment, and fit securely cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaping. Bandanas, scarfs and gaiter masks that meet these requirements, are acceptable face coverings.

Note: Some commercially available masks have exhalation valves that make the mask more breathable for the person wearing it, but these valves also allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask. Masks with exhalation valves are not recommended, because they don’t protect others from COVID-19 and don’t limit the spread of the virus.

Face shields are intended to be used as eye protection and are not a substitute for wearing a face mask. A face shield does not filter respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the face shield, which therefore provides less protection to others. While a face shield is not a substitute for a mask, it may be worn by someone who is unable to wear a mask due to breathing or cognitive difficulties, as it would be better than wearing nothing.

School staff are required by the Province to wear surgical/procedural masks in schools. These types of masks are considered Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Health Canada has approved use of the “Clearmask Transparent Face Mask” manufactured by Clearmask LLC as PPE.

The local Medical Officers of Health highly recommend that all students in the grade 3–4 class wear masks/face coverings.

Food/Drink in Schools

Food premises are regulated under the Health Protection and Promotion Act. As such, it is the responsibility of Public Health to inspect food premises to assess risk of food safety practices, determine compliance with regulations, and provide consultation and education on food handling practices.

Students are to eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort, where possible. Lunch times may be staggered to allow students to wash hands before eating, without creating congestion in washrooms or hand washing stations. Hand sanitizer is to be offered if hand washing is difficult. If weather permits, lunch breaks may take place outside. Students are not to share food or drinks. Self-serving food items are to be removed (e.g. “toast station” or self-serve bins). Microwaves are not permitted as per Ministry guidelines.

Yes. The program can be delivered in a way that any student who wishes to participate can do so. “Grab and Go formats” are preferred. All surfaces, bins and containers for food are to be disinfected prior to and after each use. Self-serving food items (e.g. “toast station” or self-serve bins) are to be removed.

Water fountains are to be disabled or used only to fill bottles. Students are to have their own drink bottles that are labeled, and kept with them during the day.

Visitors

Schools are asked to restrict visitors, including parents. Communication with parents can occur mainly through virtual or phone methods. If it is deemed essential that the parent come into the school, the parent self-screens for COVID-19 using the poster at the entrance or this online screening tool. The office administrator then verifies that the parent completed the screen through the intercom or when they enter the building. Parents complete hand hygiene upon entering and are required to wear a medical mask (i.e. surgical/procedural) while on the school premise. Records of visitor attendance will be kept.

Schools are to restrict visitors to only those who are essential. Visits to ensure school safety, such as inspections by the Ministry of Labour, Fire Marshal’s office or by public health, can continue to take place. All visitors to a school are required to self-screen for COVID-19 with this online tool, wear a medical/procedural mask while on school premises, and conduct hand hygiene upon entering. Local protocols for school access by regulated health professionals, regulated social service professionals and paraprofessionals for the purpose of delivering school-based supports and services are developed with any external community-based agencies providing these supports and services.

School Transportation

STEO Bus Safety Video – Spread Kindness Not Germs

  • Students who live in the same household are expected to sit together, while single riders may be grouped with classmates, to the extent possible.
  • Students will have assigned seats and a record of the seating plan will be kept to assist with contact tracing.
  • Medical masks and eye protection (i.e. face shields) will be required for school bus drivers.
  • There will be enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces (e.g., handrails, seatbacks).
  • Students are encouraged to wash/sanitize their hands before and after the trip.
  • It is highly recommended that students in JK to grade 3 wear a mask.  Grades 4 to grade 12 students must wear a mask, unless there is an exemption.
  • Where possible, the seat directly behind the school bus driver will remain empty.
  • Windows are to be opened when feasible to increase ventilation.
  • Students will unload from the front to the back, one seat at a time, while maintaining physical distance between them.
  • For more information, visit your child’s transportation authority’s website.

School Environments

At this time large gatherings of staff and students is not advised. Gymnasiums and libraries can only be used where physical distancing measures can be followed. These spaces are to be to one class cohort at a time and cleaned and disinfected between class cohorts of students, focusing on commonly touched surfaces and shared equipment.

In emergency situations, maintaining a physical distance is not necessary if it affects safety. When practicing emergency measures, physical distancing will be encouraged where possible.

Schools are to provide visual cues, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls to guide appropriate distances in lines and one way traffic flow patterns. Signs are to be posted at the entrances to the school to remind about the COVID-19 screening requirements. Hand washing and hand sanitizing posters displayed in bathrooms and by hand sanitizing stations serve as additional reminders on how to perform it. Signage for bathrooms indicating the maximum capacity for each room should be considered.

Schools are to ensure the safe placement of the Alcohol Based Hand Rub (ABHR) to avoid consumption, especially for young children. The Ontario Office of the Fire Marshall states that ABHR products are dispensed in small quantities thus the fire hazards they present are minimal. Precautions as outlined in the Safe Practices for the Use of Alcohol-Based Hand Rub are to be used.

Hand sanitizer is to be available in school entrances and exits and in classrooms. The Office of the Fire Marshall’s Safe Practices for the Use of Alcohol-Based Hand Rub is to be used to advise on placement.

Play structures are to be used with proper supervision in order to limit numbers of students on equipment and to ensure only one cohort at a time is using them. Students are to practice proper hand hygiene before and after using the equipment. Routine cleaning of surfaces on playgrounds, including high touch surfaces made of plastic or metal requires soap and water but not disinfectant. Cleaning of wooden surfaces is not recommended.

Different class cohorts may be out on the playground at the same time if the playground is large enough and there is a way to decrease the opportunity for each cohort from mixing. Limiting student congregation in hallways as they exit for recess is important. For this reason, recess may need to be staggered.

Electronic communication is to be promoted, where possible. If receiving an item from a student, perform hand hygiene after touching the item and avoid touching your face with unclean hands.

If sitting on floors, consider having wipeable mats designated to each student. Encourage hand hygiene before and after sitting on the floor.

Where possible, students are designated their own supplies. If supplies must be shared, they are to be cleaned and disinfected between each use.

If students from other countries are permitted to come to Canada by governments then international students can be accepted into schools. If the Government of Canada’s emergency order under the Quarantine Act is still in place, students will need to comply with this order of isolating for 14 days. Visit this website for information on the latest travel advisories and mandatory isolation. Schools are to notify the local Health Unit of any international students.

In a class cohort, physical distancing of 2m is an important protective measure. Face coverings/masks are to be worn when a 2 metre distance cannot be maintained indoors. During outdoor activities, such as recess, physical distancing is not as critical as long as there isn’t close contact (e.g. hugging).

Yes. One student at a time is recommended. Before going, students are to be reminded to practice physical distancing. For a group of children, a monitor is recommended. Students are to be encouraged to wash their hands afterwards and use hand sanitizer when they return to class to ensure their hands are clean. Teachers are to keep a log within their classroom of what time their students left the classroom and what time they returned, for the purpose of contact tracing.

Yes. Students are to bring only what is needed each day. Ensure belongings are labeled.

Only essential items are to be brought to school. A list will help parents and students to pack the appropriate items. These items may include: water bottle, snacks and lunch, sunscreen, face coverings, extra clothing and shoes. Personal items are to be labeled.

Students are to perform hand hygiene upon entering and before exiting the building, after using the washroom, before and after eating, before and after playtime with shared equipment, and before putting on their mask and after taking it off.

Only if their child(ren) requires help getting to their assigned outdoor locations. Parents are encouraged to keep their child(ren) close to them, maintain a physical distance with others, and avoid gathering and socializing on the property with other parents and staff.

Yes, if necessary. Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces between each teacher. Encourage frequent hand hygiene.

An ill student will be immediately isolated from others, in a separate room where possible. An ‘isolation or wellness’ kit with gowns, medical/procedural masks, eye protection, gloves and hand sanitizer will be kept in the designated room. If the student can tolerate a mask, they will be encouraged to keep it on. The student is to stay in this room until they are able to go home. The ill student is not to take a school vehicle or public transit. A taxi is acceptable. Staff supervising the student are to a wear medical/procedural mask, eye protection and gown. Gloves may be required if bodily fluids are involved (e.g., vomit or secretions). Staff should try to maintain at least a 2 metre distance.

Large gatherings/assemblies are to be cancelled for the immediate future. Consider offering sessions virtually.

Ontario’s stage 3 reopening allows for public spaces to be open, subject to ensuring the appropriate health and safety measures are in place, as well as limits on gathering sizes. The local Health Units recommend that school boards take time to determine how they can successfully and safely implement Community Use of Schools. When ready to do so, health and safety measures, as outlined in the Framework for Reopening our Province, will need to be included. It is also recommended that a face covering/mask requirement be built in. The local mask instruction could be used to inform language (e.g., permit the temporary removal of a mask while actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity).

  • Move activities outdoors when possible (for example, lunch, physical education, outdoor classrooms).
  • Ensure the ventilation system operates properly.
  • Increase air exchanges by adjusting the HVAC system, when possible.
  • Open windows for increased outdoor air circulation, if possible and if the weather permits.
  • If air circulation practices are not feasible for the whole facility, prioritize higher risk areas (e.g., where crowding may occur).
  • Minimize use of other air current generating devices like bladed and bladeless fans. For more information on fan use and COVID-19 visit Public Health Ontario,

Research shows that the risk of COVID-19 is decreased significantly with a one metre separation. It decreases even further with 2 metres. Currently, 2 metres is defined as the protective distancing recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health. Given the Ministry of Education has decided that students in our schools, who have decided to attend school in person, will attend five days a week it is possible that some students may be closer to 1 metre away from each other in the classroom because of limited space. The report by the Hospital for Sick Children on school opening does indicate that a 1 metre distance separation would provide some protection. When physical distancing is a challenge, practising all of the other measures are important such as wearing face coverings, hand hygiene and covering your cough and sneeze, staying home when sick, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Supporting Resources and Guidance Documents for Schools and School Staff

Posters for Schools