Skip to content

Ontario mandates masks, but not vaccines, in back-to-school guidance

Guidelines for upcoming school year allow extra-curriculars, ease distancing, but keep other measures in place.
2021-02-26 Stephen Lecce still
Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce (File image via YouTube).

The provincial government has released guidance to school boards that will relax COVID-19 restrictions, allowing extra-curriculars and easing distancing rules, but keeping features like masks and screening in place during the coming school year.

Provincial guidance to schools released Tuesday also continues to limit secondary students to two courses at a time, meaning quadmesters could remain in place at local high schools.

Masks continue to be mandated, but there will be no vaccination requirement for staff or students 12 and older, who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Minimum physical distancing is not mandated in the plan, except in limited circumstances like high-contact sports or between separate cohorts at lunch in cafeterias.

The guidelines also allow extra-curriculars, inter-school sports, and music programs to return and give some direction on ventilation.

School boards must continue to offer remote learning as an option, and be prepared to quickly switch to remote learning if needed.

Students in Grades 1 to 12 will be required to wear properly fitted non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and on school buses.

Masks aren’t required during recess or other outdoor breaks, and can be removed for low-contact indoor physical activities or while eating.

High-contact sports are allowed outdoors only, with no masking requirement.

Students in kindergarten are encouraged but not required to wear masks in indoors and on buses.

Boards can also implement additional masking measures based on local circumstances and advice from local health units.

Like masks, pre-school screenings will remain a part of life for students, parents, and school staff.

Elementary schools should attempt to keep cohorts with one teacher as much as possible, the province indicated. However, “specialized education staff” such as French teachers or education assistants can work in multiple classrooms and schools.

Members of different cohorts can interact outside, with distancing encouraged or inside with distancing and masking.

The plan includes some details on ventilation requirements for schools, but promises more specific guidance will be released soon.

Boards are instructed to “use the highest-grade filters possible, preferably MERV 13 filters” in HVAC systems. They must also have all ventilation systems “inspected and in good working order” prior to the start of classes.

The guidance document did not address updated procedures to manage COVID-19 in schools, stating rules on responding to cases and outbreaks is “forthcoming” and will be based on the previous school year.

The Official Opposition NDP have called for a back-to-school plan that includes smaller class sizes and ventilation standards, and said the plan must be accompanied by paid sick days for workers to be effective.