3rd COVID-19 pandemic-altered school year gets underway for some Ontario boards

Click to play video: 'GTA parents on edge as beginning of school approaches'
GTA parents on edge as beginning of school approaches
WATCH ABOVE: GTA parents on edge as beginning of school approaches. Brittany Rosen has more. – Sep 5, 2021

Teachers and parents shared photos of masked students, tidy classrooms and bustling school yards Tuesday as the third school year affected by the COVID-19 began for many Ontario students.

Classes resumed in boards including the Bluewater District School Board, the District School Board of Niagara and the Halton District School Board. Other boards, including the largest, the Toronto District School Board, are set to start classes on Thursday.

“My girls were so excited to see sidewalks filled with kids walking with backpacks, friends, crossing guards and their teachers today,” one Halton Region parent said on Twitter, with a photo of two young girls walking on a tree-lined sidewalk, carrying backpacks.

“Even with masks & screening forms, it felt so normal. It’s been a long time coming and they can’t wait to get back into school!”

Read more: COVID-19: Unvaccinated Ontario school staff will need to get tested 2 times per week

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A photo from Aldershot high school in Burlington, Ont., showed clusters of students standing in the middle of the school’s football field, under a clear sky and bright September sun.

“Grade 9 Link Orientation! Full of energy and enthusiasm!” the school’s principal, Rebecca Newcombe, tweeted alongside the photo.

Silver Creek Public School, an elementary school in Georgetown, Ont., shared a photo of masked students in the school yard lining up behind teachers hoisting up signs.

“We are SO happy to have our students back!” the school wrote.

Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce, touted the province’s investments in school ventilation Tuesday as he marked the return to in-person or remote learning for many students.

“Our cautious plan is designed to minimize disruption and maximize safety — with a focus on ventilation improvements — so that your children can continue learning throughout the year,” Lecce said in a statement.

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He also urged students to “remain vigilant” in the face of the ongoing health crisis.

The province’s Ministry of Education has sent guidelines to schools in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, which include requirements that staff and students self-screen for COVID-19 each day and wear masks indoors.

The ministry has also required that all boards offer a remote learning option for students who don’t feel comfortable in the classroom due to the pandemic.

The province recently removed ‘runny nose’ and ‘headache’ from the list of COVID-19 symptoms that require children to stay home from school and get tested for COVID-19.

Read more: Some Ontario school boards taking individual approach to ‘learning loss’ as classes approach

Vaccination is not mandatory for teachers or eligible students under Ontario’s back-to-school plan, which also allows for extracurricular activities and field trips to resume.

Last month, the Ontario government announced all schools without mechanical ventilation systems would be equipped with a standalone HEPA unit for the return to classes.

At the time, Lecce said about 70 per cent of schools in the province already had mechanical ventilation. Some 50,000 HEPA units were in use in facilities without mechanical ventilation, with an additional $25 million provided to buy enough for every classroom and other learning spaces such as gyms and libraries, he said.

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Junior and senior kindergarten classes would also get a HEPA unit regardless of the school’s ventilation system, because kids of that age aren’t required to wear masks in schools, he said.

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