What to expect for the school year

All public and private schools have returned to full-time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year with health and safety measures in place.

Remote learning will continue to be an option for students and families. Schools have:

  • signs to reinforce self-screening for symptoms of illness, hand hygiene, physical distancing and one-way foot traffic in hallways and bathrooms
  • hand sanitizer at key locations throughout the school
  • rules about how people enter and exit the school

This is a summary of the health and safety measures. You can also read the complete guidance for schools.

Mandatory vaccination disclosure

For the 2021-22 school year, there is a vaccination disclosure policy for all:

  • school board employees
  • staff in private schools
  • staff in licensed child care settings

Staff who are not immunized against covid 19 must complete a rapid antigen test three times per week.

Adjusting health and safety measures

The current health and safety measures in place for schools may be adjusted based on key public health and health care data.

We will continue to work with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and local public health units to review data to help inform and update guidance. Some public health units might require additional health and safety measures based on local public health data.

Elementary schools

Elementary school children will attend school in-person five days per week.

Students will be in cohorts, which means they will be with the same group of children and have one teacher.

Other programming, such as physical education or French, will continue while students are in cohorts.

Secondary schools

Students in secondary schools will attend school in-person five days per week.

School boards will ensure student schedules have only two in-person classes for the fall semester.

Your school board might make an exception to the rule for having two in-person classes if the student goes to a school where contact can be limited by cohorting grades or overall size of the school is small, making contact tracing manageable.

Starting in February 2022, school boards can move to regular schedules with four in-person classes per day unless it is not permitted by the local public health unit. Some secondary schools might return to regular timetables starting in November 2021 if supported by the local medical officer of health.

Masks and hand washing

Schools will:

  • ensure students are wearing a mask when required
  • train students on appropriate hand hygiene
  • schedule breaks for students to wash their hands
  • have hand sanitizer available at key locations throughout the school

Students

Grades 1 to 12

Students must wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors, including in hallways and during classes and on school vehicles.

Students can remove masks indoors to consume food or drink only, with a minimum distance of two metres maintained between cohorts.

Kindergarten

We encourage students in kindergarten to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, as well as on school vehicles.

Students do not need to wear masks outdoors. School and school boards can create reasonable exceptions to wearing a mask.

Teachers and staff

All staff in schools must wear medical masks (surgical or procedural) indoors, including in hallways and during classes.

Staff do not need to wear medical masks outdoors when two metres of distance is maintained from others.

Eye protection (for example, face shields or goggles) is not required for staff working with students who are wearing masks.

Learn more about face coverings, including exceptions and how to properly fit, wear, remove and clean your non-medical face mask.

Mandatory self-screening

Students, teachers, school staff and visitors must self-screen for symptoms of covid 19 every day before going to school.

Use the covid 19 school and child care screening tool to assess your child or yourself for symptoms. The results will tell you:

  • if you should go to school or stay home
  • what to do next

You can download, print or email your results through the tool.

On-site screening

Schools will conduct daily on-site confirmation of self-screening for elementary and secondary students, staff and visitors before entering or at the start of the school day, for the first two weeks of their school in January 2022 when returning from the winter break, and as instructed by the Ministry of Education throughout the school year.

Academic and extra-curricular activities

Students can participate in academic and extra-curricular activities with appropriate physical distancing and according to provincial guidance.

  • Elementary and secondary health and physical education classes, including high and low-contact activities are allowed outdoors and indoors. Masking is encouraged for indoor sports where they can be worn safely based on the activity.
  • Clubs and other activities are allowed. Students can socialize with other cohorts outdoors (for example, during recess) and indoors with physical distancing.
  • Music programs are allowed indoors. Singing and playing wind instruments is allowed with appropriate physical distancing in place.
  • Day trips and overnight stays are allowed with screening for symptoms of covid 19.

Read all of the guidance for academic and extra-curricular activities.

Shared spaces and materials

Students can use shared spaces with appropriate indoor gathering measures and physical distancing in place. Shared spaces can include libraries, computer or tech labs, lockers, gymnasiums and change rooms.

Lunch and cafeteria use

Students can eat lunch together:

  • outdoors, without physical distancing
  • indoors, including in the cafeteria, with at least two metres distance between students from different cohorts

If two metres distance cannot be maintained between students from different cohorts when eating indoors (for example, in the cafeteria or other shared lunch spaces):

  • elementary students must eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort
  • secondary schools must have a plan to limit the number of students and cohorts eating close to each other as much as possible

Assemblies

In-person assemblies and other student or school gatherings are allowed as long as the gathering follows the public health measures and advice.

  • allowed for secondary students as long as the gathering follows the public health measures and advice
  • not allowed for elementary students (virtual gatherings will be offered) starting January 2022
    • some school boards may move to virtual assemblies before January 2022 based on advice from the local public health unit

Shared materials

Students can share materials during recess, within shared spaces and indoors with appropriate physical distancing measures, regular hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette (like using alcohol-based hand sanitizer). This includes sharing computers, art supplies, books, indoor physical education equipment, and learning and play-based materials.

Visitors

Visitors can enter schools. Visitors must wear a medical mask and self-screen for covid 19 symptoms before entering the school.

Cleaning practices

Schools will continue to have enhanced cleaning practices. This includes cleaning high-touch surfaces, like eating areas, washrooms, doorknobs and desks at least twice a day.

Ventilation

School boards will continue to ensure adequate ventilation measures are in place in all classrooms. This includes:

  • increasing fresh air intake
  • running ventilation systems longer and using the highest-grade filters (for example, MERV)
  • using standalone high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units to ensure adequate ventilation in all occupied classrooms and other school spaces, like cafeterias, gyms, libraries, music rooms and portables
  • using standalone high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units in all occupied junior and senior kindergarten classrooms in schools with mechanical ventilation
  • increasing the frequency of filter changes

Schools are encouraged to support outdoor education when possible and open windows to help improve air flow.

Check your school board's website to find out about their ventilation measures.

Voluntary COVID-19 testing

Take-home PCR self-collection kits

All publicly funded elementary and secondary schools offer take-home PCR self-collection kits for:

  • students with covid 19 symptoms
  • students who have been identified as a high-risk contact
  • staff who have been identified as a high-risk contact

Families will be able to pick up PCR self-collection kits from school, collect the sample at home and drop it off at a participating location.

Check your PCR self-collection kit for full instructions on how to use it at home.

Voluntary rapid antigen screening

All elementary and secondary students in publicly funded schools will receive a box of five rapid antigen tests from their school for voluntary screening at home during the winter break. This is an added layer of protection to support a safer return to school in January.

Families can conduct the rapid antigen screening at home using the instructions that are provided from your child’s school.

Families who choose to use rapid antigen screening kits may want to conduct the rapid antigen tests every three to four days over the winter break (for example, every Monday and Thursday beginning December 23, until all five tests have been used).

Some public health units may:

  • offer voluntary, rapid antigen screening for unvaccinated students and children without covid 19 symptoms
  • use rapid antigen screening tests to support continued in-person learning for non-exposed cohorts and avoid school-wide dismissals

Students and children with covid 19 symptoms or who have been identified as a high-risk contact are not eligible for these programs. If your child has covid 19 symptoms or has been exposed to someone with covid 19, they should get tested at a covid 19 testing location.

For full instructions on rapid antigen screening, visit the Ontario Health website.

If the test is positive

If your child tests positive on a rapid antigen test, you must get a follow-up test at a covid 19 testing location to confirm the result within 48 hours. The child and anyone in the household who is not fully vaccinated must isolate while waiting for results.

If someone becomes ill at school

If anyone becomes ill at a school, they will:

  • be immediately separated from others, in a separate room if possible, until they can go home
  • be provided with a medical mask
  • continue to be supervised according to the school's usual policy
  • be asked to maintain physical distancing
  • be unable to take school or public transportation

Learn about covid 19 cases in Ontario schools.

If your child becomes ill at school

If your child becomes ill at school, they must go home.

The school will contact you and you'll need to arrange for them to get home, in a way that does not include public transportation. We encourage you to have a plan for this ahead of time.

COVID-19 test

If your child becomes ill at school, you should consult their health care provider. They may recommend your child get tested for covid 19. If you or your child are tested for covid 19, it's easy to get the results.

If your child is not tested for covid 19, your child should remain at home for a minimum of 10 days and until they are symptom free for at least 24 hours.

After negative test results

Students who test negative for covid 19, or who are diagnosed by a health care provider as having something else, can return to school when:

  • they have been free of fever for 24 hours
  • they have been free of vomiting or diarrhea for 48 hours
  • other symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours
  • if they have not been directed to self-isolate
  • have had no contact to a confirmed case of covid 19

You do not need a doctor's note or proof of a negative test result for your child to return to school.

After positive test results

Students who test positive for covid 19 must follow advice from the local public health unit and cannot return to school until the local public health unit advises that it's safe. Learn how to self-isolate and care for someone with covid 19.

If a COVID-19 case is confirmed at school

The local public health unit will determine what happens if a covid 19 case is confirmed at your school.

Check for notices on the school or board website

School boards and schools will post a notice on their website if a student or staff member tests positive for covid 19. Search for a covid 19 advisory section on their website.

No personal information will be posted.

Working with public health

Schools will work with public health units to help them identify who has been in close contact with a person who tested positive for covid 19.

This means that a school may provide the public health unit with your child's name and other information about their class or child care cohort.

Schools will provide information in accordance with all applicable legislation, including the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

If there is risk of exposure

The public health unit will assess risk of exposure.

If your child was in close contact with a person who tested positive, the public health unit will tell you if your child must isolate. They'll also tell you if your child or family need to get tested for covid 19 or should not attend school.

If your child is feeling well enough, the school will give them remote learning activities they can do at home during their isolation period.

Learn more about what high risk contacts will need to do.

Not everyone may have been exposed

The public health unit may determine that your child has not been in close contact with a person who tested positive for covid 19.

The public health unit will advise you to monitor your child for symptoms.

Declaring an outbreak

An outbreak may be declared by the local public health unit when:

  • within a 14-day period, there are two or more laboratory-confirmed covid 19 cases in students, staff or other visitors with an epidemiological link
  • at least one case could have been infected in the school (including on a school bus or in before or after school care)

What your local public health unit will do

The local public health unit is responsible for:

  • determining if an outbreak exists
  • declaring an outbreak
  • providing direction on how to control the outbreak in collaboration with the school and other relevant partners, such as before and after school programs
  • determining who is at high-risk of infection and needs to self-isolate
  • declaring when an outbreak is over

Read the guidance for public health units on covid 19 outbreak management in schools.

Updated: November 26, 2021
Published: July 09, 2021