HEPA units in every Guelph classroom, N95 masks available for teachers, public school board hears

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WATCH: When students and staff return to in-person learning next week, there will be some changes – Jan 11, 2022

Every public school classroom and learning space in Guelph will have a HEPA filter and every teacher will have an N95 mask when students return to school next week.

That’s what the Upper Grand District School Board’s business operations committee heard during a meeting on Tuesday that discussed a return to class plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have just over 2,200 standalone HEPA units across our system so that they are in each of our learning spaces,” said director of education Peter Sovran.

Along with N95 masks for every teacher, three-ply reusable masks will also be available to every student as they head back to in-person learning on Monday.

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“School operations staff over the course of this week will be continuing to distribute the masks to each school so they are in place by Friday of this week so they are ready for students when they come into our building, presumably on Monday,” said executive superintendent of education Brent McDonald.

He announced that the board has also strengthened its mask exemption policy.

Moving forward, a certificate that is signed and stamped by a physician or nurse practitioner will be required in order to grant a student a mask exemption.

Previously, parents only had to attest that their child had a medical reason for an exemption.

“Starting last Friday, principals started reaching to the over 200 students and their families we already had on an exemption to advise them of the requirements to reapply for a mask exemption,” McDonald said.

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With public health no longer reporting the number of COVID cases in schools, the board is launching a pilot project to provide some general data.

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For each school, Upper Grand will publish a percentage of absences every day compared to the average day.

“It is an approximation. It is a pilot [project]. We actually don’t know whether or not this will meet the intended need and we also don’t know whether the Ministry of Education will be providing any additional guidance around an attendance proxy such as this,” Sovran said.

Sovran added that parents are not required to tell the school if their child is away due to COVID-19, so unless told otherwise, the school will assume the absence is due to the disease.

On Wednesday, the province announced that schools will now have to report daily data on staff absences to local public health units to monitor disruptions in schools now that the province has limited access to tests.

Officials say public health will notify families if 30 per cent of the school is absent, though they noted that it will not be confirmed whether all absences are due to COVID-19.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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