Ontario issued long-awaited guidance Wednesday to help school boards, child-care centres and before- and after- school programs in the event COVID-19 is found or suspected there.
In the Bluewater District School Board, about 90 per cent — more than 15,500 students — have indicated they’ll attend in person when school resumes next month. The rest, about 1,580 of them, will study via computer from home.
At Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board, 92 or so per cent of students, about 350, are intending to return to class. The rest will work from home, at least to start. If they change their minds and want to return, there’s a process for that.
Parents must screen their kids for the virus every day and not send them to school if they show any COVID symptoms or are ill, according to a sample “welcome back” letter the province is providing to school boards.
The board has received many questions and so the guidance is welcome, said Gary O’Donnell, the superintendent of the Bruce Grey Catholic District School Board Thursday.
“I think it clearly outlines the process when or if there is a suspected or a case of COVID-19 that connects to the school community,” O’Donnell said. “So I think we’ve been waiting for this for guidance; we’ve had lots of questions from parents.”
He encouraged parents to visit the board’s website and seek out their school principal if they have any questions about returning to school.
School board directors just got the document late Wednesday night and so they and O’Donnell were still absorbing its contents Thursday afternoon. It includes protocols for various people including teachers and principles to follow.
“All of our critical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) have arrived. Signage has gone up in the buildings. So we’re getting close to being ready to welcome students,” O’Donnell said. “It’s been since March 13 and we’re just really excited to welcome our students back and we want to ensure that we do so safely.”
A representative from the Bluewater board was not available to comment on the new guidance document Thursday.
Provincial direction to schools is that students who get sick at school will be isolated and must be picked up from school as soon as possible. Kids with COVID symptoms won’t be able to use the school bus.
The most common symptoms include fever, new or worsening cough and shortness of breath. Other symptoms can include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, lost sense of smell and taste, nausea, diarrhea, and a runny nose unrelated to allergies.
The province’s return-to-school COVID-19 document sets out recommendations on safely managing any virus infections and outbreaks. It’s found at https://www.ontario.ca/page/operational-guidance-covid-19-management-schools.
Local public health officials will help determine if there’s a school outbreak, how each case will be addressed, and when to declare an outbreak over, the document says.
Anyone suspected of having COVID-19 must isolate and not attend school in person. Even someone who tests negative shouldn’t return to school until at least 24 hours after their symptoms have resolved, according to the guidance.
Should students or staff test positive for the virus, public health will contact the school to provide direction on returning to school.
School boards and schools must announce on their websites any COVID-positive cases of staff or students at their schools, though not by individuals’ names.
If public health advises that a class, cohort of students or a school should be closed, parents, students and staff will be notified immediately, and the decision will be posted on school and board websites, the document says.