Ontario students can join sports teams, play musical instruments, no masks outdoors as part of back-to-school plan

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The plan emphasizes outdoor activities – allowing children to play during recess with friends from other classes – and again allowing materials to be shared, like toys in kindergarten

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Ontario students who return to school next month will be able to play on sports teams, use instruments in music lessons, go on school trips and throw masks outside, even if the distance cannot be maintained.

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The government on Tuesday released its back-to-school plan, which includes resuming extracurricular activities, relaxed rules on the use of shared spaces like libraries and cafeterias, and continued to require indoor masks for children. 1st grade students and up.

Students will attend in person for full days, five days a week – unless they have opted for distance learning – and high school students will have schedules with no more than two lessons at a time.

The plan warns school boards to prepare for a potential closure, but Ontario’s chief medical officer of health has said he doesn’t believe this will happen.

“I really can’t imagine or see the closing of schools in Ontario – or colleges or universities – we have to keep them open in the future,” said Dr. Kieran Moore.

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He suggested that treating COVID-19 in schools would eventually be akin to the flu.

“I think we need to standardize COVID-19 for schools and have a cautious, cautious approach, but this realizes that yes, we are going to have an increase in cases, but we are going to adhere to best practices to minimize the spread and ensure the safety of our communities, ”said Moore.

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Ontario experienced the longest hiatus in face-to-face classes in Canada.

Alex Munter, CEO of Children’s Hospital CHEO, said school closures last year were used as a means to control the pandemic and a concerted effort must be made to protect the New Year school.

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“I think we will find out, as the children return to school… that we will face significant educational and development impacts of school closures,” he said.

“We are already seeing the impacts in terms of mental health and emotional well-being. The goal of keeping schools open must really be the central concern of the government and of all of our communities. “

Education Minister Stephen Lecce will not be available to answer questions about the plan until Wednesday, when he is expected to announce an additional $ 25 million in ventilation funding for stand-alone HEPA units. The government previously announced that more than $ 500 million in ventilation improvements are underway.

Schools with mechanical ventilation should use the highest quality filters possible and turn on their systems at least two hours before school starts, and schools without them should have stand-alone HEPA filter units in all rooms. class.

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The Ontario Public School Boards Association applauded the plan, but said the government must ensure that school boards are fully funded for their extra ventilation, personal protective equipment and cleaning costs.

The plan emphasizes outdoor activities, such as allowing children to play during recess with friends from other classes – with distance encouraged but not required. It also re-allows sharing of materials, such as computers, gym equipment, and kindergarten toys.

Students can sing and play instruments, including wind instruments, in well-ventilated areas. Indoors, masks are encouraged but not required for singing if there is a distance, and two meters should also be kept indoors when playing wind instruments in a cohort. Outdoors, different cohorts can play music together – in a jazz band, for example – with encouraged distancing.

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For sport, high-contact activities can be practiced outdoors. Low contact sports can be played indoors if the cohorts are far apart, with masking encouraged but not required. The swimming pools will be allowed to be used, with distancing on the bridge.

Assemblies may resume, subject to public health rules on indoor assembly limits, and visitors will again be allowed to enter schools.

Protocols can be canceled over time, depending on vaccination rates, but the government does not make injections mandatory for staff or students.

Dr. Anna Banerji, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the plan seemed “reasonable,” but she would have liked to see more advice on how schools should handle exposures to COVID-19.

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“Last week, they told us that there would be a different way of treating vaccinated and unvaccinated children, and that unvaccinated children will have to be absent during the incubation period – but none of that is ‘s in this plan, “she said.

Banerji also said the province should not ease restrictions too much on young students who cannot yet be vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines are not yet approved in Canada for children under 12.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said teachers believe face-to-face learning is the best model for teaching, but the union does not believe the plan will make it happen by completely safe. President Sam Hammond called on the government to reduce class sizes, make masks mandatory for all students, including kindergarten students, maintain existing precautions in gym classes and maintain isolation rules for people with symptoms.

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Schools will primarily rely on families to screen for symptoms of COVID-19 at home, but may need to confirm screening on site when transmission could be higher, such as after a vacation.

Rules about when students should stay home haven’t been updated, but Moore said they will likely change.

“We did a lot of testing for very mild symptoms like a runny nose and found that we didn’t have a lot of population positives, so we narrowed down the list of symptoms to those that are very specific. to COVID-19, “he said.

This list includes fever, cough, increasing shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, and in children, vomiting and diarrhea.

The NDP said it was disappointed that there was no mention of smaller class sizes or ways to increase youth immunization rates.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the plan should have included mandatory vaccinations for frontline education workers.

Ontario reported 164 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one death.

The latest provincial data shows that 99.5% of all COVID-19 intensive care admissions from mid-June to mid-July were unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and nearly 96% of related deaths were in the same group.

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