TDSB releases back-to-school COVID guidelines ahead of Monday

By Lucas Casaletto

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) updated its back-to-school guidelines ahead of a full return to class on Monday, saying additional HEPA filters will be provided to enhance safety measures.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce held a news conference Wednesday and said Ontario’s return to in-person learning plan would focus on rapid testing, improved ventilation and more access to vaccinations and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Principals at Ontario schools will only be required to report COVID-19 outbreaks to Public Health Units when absenteeism rates among students and staff hit a 30 per cent threshold. Still, parents will have access to data on school outbreaks before they reach that severity.

As a result, the TDSB says that directly impacted classes will be informed when schools become aware of a PCR or RAT confirmed case.

“As the Ministry of Education has stated that classes will no longer be dismissed as a result of a case of COVID-19, that guidance will no longer be provided by the school. Instead, parents/guardians and/or students will review the daily COVID-19 screening tool to determine if they are permitted to return to school,” Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawlins confirmed on Thursday.

“While individual classes will continue to be provided with COVID-19 case information, the COVID-19 Advisories page on the TDSB website will no longer be updated.”

Among several other measures being taken, the TDSB says it will continue to consult with Toronto Public Health to support the rollout of vaccines for kids aged five and older.

Key updates: 

Masks: All students continue to be required to wear a mask while in school buildings. Every school has a supply of high-quality, 3-ply cloth masks available for students. Please reach out to your Principal if you require some. Students are not required to wear masks outside as long as they remain within their cohort.

HEPA Filters: More than 16,000 HEPA filters in all occupied learning spaces across the TDSB. Following a recent government announcement, nearly 300 additional units will be delivered in the upcoming weeks. Learn more about the updates the TDSB has made to improve ventilation.

Lunches: While this will depend on unique circumstances at each school, physical distancing will be maximized, and students will eat at different times, where possible.

Extra-Curricular Activities: All in-person extra-curricular activities that involve mixing cohorts, singing, and using wind instruments will be paused temporarily. The TDSB is currently working with Toronto Public Health on the next steps.

COVID-19 Testing: Rapid Antigen Tests will be provided for elementary students and elementary and secondary staff when they return to school next week. Tests will be provided to secondary students when additional supplies are provided by the Ministry later in the week. Staff and students are encouraged to use them at home when symptomatic. If symptoms appear when students or staff are at school, a take-home PCR test may be available to them while supplies from the Ministry last.

You can view the complete list here.

When asked Wednesday why the government is no longer reporting COVID-19 data in schools, Ontario’s top doctor said the province modified its protocols in its “pivot from Delta to Omicron.”

Dr. Kieran Moore said the province would continue to report specific virus-related data, such as virus-related admissions to hospitals for children between the ages of five to 11 and 12 to 17.

TPH issues letter to parents, guardians ahead of Monday

Toronto Public Health says it’s doing “everything possible” to protect students and staff, enhancing its COVID-19 screening tool and explaining how and when to self-isolate.

“We appreciate that this is a challenging time for families with a lot of changes happening quickly,” TPH wrote in a letter to parents and guardians.

“As your local health unit, we want to be as helpful as possible. We are reaching out today to provide you key information about changes in Toronto Public Health’s role based on the provincial guidance received this week and what you can do to support your child as you prepare them for the return to in-person school.”

Toronto Public Health return to school guidance (PDF)

Premier Doug Ford pointed to the growing pressure on hospitals and a coming “tsunami” of COVID-19 cases when he announced the temporary shift to online learning on Jan. 3.

He said virtual learning would last until at least Jan. 17, depending on health indicators.

With files from The Canadian Press

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