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Extracurricular activities back, no masks outside in Ontario back-to-school plan

But masks will still need to be worn indoors
Photo from The Canadian Press

Ontario students returning to schools next month will be able to play on sports teams, use instruments in music class, go on field trips and ditch masks outdoors.

The government released its back-to-school plan today, which includes extracurricular activities resuming, relaxed rules on using shared spaces such as libraries and cafeterias, and continuing to require masks indoors for students in Grades 1 and up.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce will not be available to answer questions about the plan until Wednesday, when he is set to announce $25 million more in ventilation funding for standalone HEPA filter units.

Schools with mechanical ventilation are expected to use the highest-grade filters possible and turn their systems on at least two hours before school starts, and schools without are expected to have standalone HEPA filter units in all classrooms.

The plan places an emphasis on outdoor activities - allowing kids to play during recess with friends from other classes - and allowing shared materials again, such as toys in kindergarten.

Students will be attending in person for full days, five days a week, unless they have opted for remote learning.

Schools will mostly be relying on families to self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 at home, but may have to do on-site confirmation of screening during periods when transmission might be higher, such as after a holiday. Rules on when students have to stay home have not yet been updated, but they are expected to change before September.

The plan says protocols may be rolled back over time, dependent on vaccination rates, but doesn't make shots mandatory for staff or students.

Students can sing and play instruments, including wind instruments, in areas with adequate ventilation. Indoors, masks are encouraged but not required for singing if there is distancing, and two metres should also be maintained inside when playing wind instruments within a cohort. Outside, different cohorts can play music together – in jazz band, for example – with distancing encouraged.

For sports, high-contact activities can be played outdoors. A basketball game could be played outside, but inside students could do distanced drills. Low-contact sports can be played inside if cohorts are distanced from each other, with masking encouraged but not required. Pools will be allowed to be used, with distancing on the deck.

Assemblies can resume, subject to public health rules on indoor gathering limits, and visitors such as guest speakers and parents will be allowed into schools again.

The rules on when students have to stay home have not yet been updated, but they are expected to change before September.

Standardized EQAO tests for Grades 3 and 6 will resume this year, but a literacy graduation requirement is waived for this year's graduates.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2021.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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