The Ontario government has stayed true to its word, and elementary, and secondary students will return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17, 2022, as planned with strong protection in place.
Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce made it official at a media conference on Wednesday.
“We believe so strongly that children need to be in school, that they are essential to the mental and physical health of a child and to their academic success. We have been cautious throughout this pandemic and we’ve pivoted when required to ensure we protect our schools, our communities, and our collective progress as we work together to get kids back to school and our lives back on track,” Lecce said.
Rapid antigen test kits will be distributed to schools once students, and staff return to school on Monday, to protect against the ongoing Omicron variant. Each student and staff member will be given two tests to be used when feeling symptomatic.
The province will be increasing the access to COVID-19 vaccines for students, education, and child care staff, as well Ontario will distribute over nine million non-fitted N95 masks for students and staff use.
Lecce mentioned the province will be mobilizing school-based vaccination clinics to support greater uptake of children and youth that requires the consent of parents in Ontario.
Current vaccination rates among children aged 12 to 17 years old are 82 per cent having received two doses. Of children aged five to 11 years old, nearly 50 per cent have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ontario will also be providing an additional 3,000 HEPA units across all publicly-funded schools across the province to improve ventilation units in facilities.
Stricter screening requirements will be in place for students and staff, including daily onsite confirmation of screening.
School boards will have access to $1.6 billion in resources to protect against COVID-19, including supports for mental health, technology, over 2,350 additional staff, and ventilation.
New time-limited cohorting protocols to limit direct and indirect contacts by pausing high-contact extracurricular sports, stricter lunch cohort requirements, and elevated cleaning requirements at all schools.
Access to retired educators for a longer period of time following a recent agreement with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, and access to first-year teacher candidates who are deemed eligible.
Students have been learning virtually since January 5, 2022, after a surge in COVID-19 cases prompted the government to hold off sending kids back to school until at least January 17.
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, added in the announcement the province will be changing its case and contact method when it comes to COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.
Moore explained that school boards will notify parents and work with the local public health unit when school absence rates reach 30 per cent.