5 things you need to know before Ottawa students return to school

As Ottawa students, parents and teachers prepare for the return of in-person learning on Monday, the director of education for the city’s largest school board is preaching patience.

In a note to families on Friday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board Director of Education Camille Williams-Taylor acknowledged that recent transitions have been difficult for families and “there are mixed feelings about when returning to in-person learning”.

“School staff, like families, try to balance their job responsibilities with their personal safety and family obligations,” Williams-Taylor said. “These are stressful times for everyone and now more than ever it’s so important that we take a moment to pause, reflect and respond, rather than react.”

The fast-spreading Omicron variant delayed the return of in-person classes for two weeks. The province said the time was being used to distribute masks and more HEPA filters to school boards, as well as allowing more people to get vaccinated and vaccinated.

Classes will reopen under different circumstances on Monday, including a new case reporting strategy. Under new provincial guidelines, parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak when approximately 30% of school staff and students are absent.

School buses will also resume on Monday. And school-based vaccination clinics are in the works for later this month.

Here are five things parents should keep in mind when back to school on Monday:

Daily screening tool

Officials are asking students, parents and staff to use the provincial COVID-19 screening tool every morning to determine if they should come to school in person. You can find it here.

Wearing a mask

Schools will distribute three-ply cloth masks to students starting next week. The Ottawa Catholic School Board said it received 120,000 masks for distribution, along with more than 201,000 N95 masks for staff.

The OCDSB points out that parents may want to send an extra mask for outdoor play, as masks worn outside in cold weather can become damp.

Quick test

The province distributes two rapid antigen tests to each student. The OCDSB says it hopes to distribute them to elementary school students next week once the shipment arrives, and to secondary school students at a later date.

They should be used if students are showing symptoms of COVID-19. If a student tests twice negative and no longer has any symptoms of COVID-19, they can return to school.

Absence report

The Ontario government says parents will only be notified of a possible COVID-19 outbreak when about 30% of school staff and students are away.

When student and staff absenteeism at an individual school reaches this threshold, it will require the principal to notify local health authorities. At that time, a joint letter from the local Medical Officer of Health and Director would be sent to the community.

At this point, it is possible that the school will revert to remote learning, although it is not mandatory.

Possible school closures

The OCDSB and OCSB say they will do everything possible to keep schools open, but classes may have to switch to remote learning if there are staff shortages.

Parents will be notified the night before, and they are encouraged to put contingency plans in place and monitor their emails for updates.

For more information on returning to school, you can visit the OCDSB and OCSB websites.

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