Message from Minister of Education & Chief Medical Officer

We know how critical in-person learning is to the mental health, well-being, and academic success of Ontario students. As we meet the challenge presented by the Omicron variant, we are building upon Ontario’s cautious and leading plan to protect in-person learning.

Ontario students and children have benefitted from continuous efforts to keep schools and child care settings safer, including high quality masks, enhanced cleaning, and improvements in air ventilation in every school – with more than 70,000 HEPA filter units and other ventilation devices deployed. In December, Ontario sent a total of 11 million rapid antigen tests home with students to help protect against the spread of COVID-19 and to support the safe return to in-person learning following the winter break.

We are taking nothing for granted. Health and safety in our schools and child care settings remains a top priority and we continue to monitor to ensure that every precaution is taken to protect children, students, and staff and to support continued safe in-person learning.

The Children’s Health Coalition – representing Ontario’s children’s hospitals, mental health agencies and rehabilitation centres – has emphasized that in-person education is critical to the mental health, development and well-being of children and youth. Ontario students in publicly funded schools will return to in-person learning on January 5, 2022 for school boards previously scheduled to return January 3 to prepare for the public health measures announced on Dec. 30, 2021.

In response to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, Ontario is putting in place additional health and safety measures to create more layers of protection to keep schools as safe as possible for in-person learning, which is critical to the positive mental health and academic success of students.

These include:

  • Updating the COVID-19 school and child care screener ahead of the return to school on January 5 and asking students, parents and staff for rigorous screening and monitoring of symptoms.
  • Providing non-fit-tested N95 masks for staff in schools and licensed child care settings as an optional alternative to medical/surgical masks, and additional supply of high-quality three-ply cloth masks that are strongly encouraged and free for students and children in January.
  • Deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to school boards, building on the existing 70,000 HEPA filter units and ventilation devices already in schools.
  • Continuing PCR testing eligibility for symptomatic elementary and secondary students, education staff and participating private and First Nation operated schools who have received a PCR self-collection kit through their school.

Starting in January, temporarily permitting only low-contact indoor sports and safe extra-curricular activities.

  • Updating COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards and child care in January.
  • Supporting the projected hiring of over 2,000 staff, funded by a $304 million allocation for second semester that includes additional teachers, custodians, and mental health workers.

Furthermore, to maintain operational safety given anticipated higher rates of absenteeism, school boards are directed to exhaust all efforts to fill staff vacancies, including through substitute and retired teachers, before shifting to online learning.

Ontario’s schools are also benefitting from high rates of vaccination. We thank students, parents, and staff for helping to keep our schools and child care settings safe by getting vaccinated. With 400 school-focused clinics underway, Ontario has one of the highest rates of vaccination in Canada. More than 85.9% per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 82.2% per cent have received a second dose and 43.1% percent of Ontario children between ages 5 and 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

We encourage everyone who is eligible for a vaccination or booster to get vaccinated to further protect students as they return to school. It is natural to have questions about the vaccine. Parents or guardians with concerns can reach out to the SickKids COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service at www.sickkids.ca/vaccineconsult, or 1-888-304-6558 to book a consultation. The consultation service is available in multiple languages, using over-the-phone language interpretation. Parents and caregivers can also contact the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943- 3900 to receive more information from a health specialist.

By working together, we can help Ontario students achieve a successful continuation of in-person learning this winter.

Please take a moment to review a few key important reminders or visit Ontario’s website to learn more about COVID-19.

Sincerely,

Dr, Kieran Moore

Chief Medical Officer of Health

 

Stephen Lecce

Minister of Education

December 31st, 2021|

WCDSB Before and After School Program Update

Earlier today information was shared via NewsWire to our Waterloo Catholic Community advising that the start of school will be moved to January 5th. There will not be board-operated or child care centre provided school-age care available on January 3rd or 4th. School staff will be focused on preparing our schools and classrooms for the return of students on January 5th.

Communication will be sent directly to parents/guardians of registered children to advise of program closures, fee cancellation and important back-to-school information from the Director of Education. Child care operators will communicate with their affected families directly, or messaging may have already been sent.

December 31st, 2021|

Important Back-to-School Update from the Director of Education

Dear Waterloo Catholic Community –

I hope that you have enjoyed a pleasant, restful and healthy Christmas season with your family.  While generally a time of celebration and joy, it has been a time of concern for many due to the increase in COVID-19 cases that we have been witness to in our communities and reported in the media.

The omicron variant has become the dominant strain of COVID with unprecedented speed and we have seen case counts grow at an exponential rate – faster than any wave before.  The good news is that both globally and here in Ontario, the greater majority of all cases are relatively mild and the percentage that lead to serious illness seem to be very few.

With that said – the need for caution is very real, given the sheer volume of cases.  Our care and concern for our vulnerable population and our health care workers who have done so much to serve our communities must remain one of our highest priorities.  As a result, the Provincial Government, through the Chief Medical Officer of Health, has updated a number of points of guidance and procedure.

This letter provides very important updates about the return to school this new year.

Return to School:

The return to in-person learning for all students will be delayed to Wednesday January 5, 2022.  (This includes St Isidore and St Louis).  Students should continue to use the Rapid Antigen Tests you received before the break, and any positive result should be considered a final result, confirming a COVID infection.

Please see the note below regarding timing of the last two tests.  No staff or student should attend work or school after a positive result. Instructions on their use were provided by your local school before the break, along with instruction videos in multiple languages.

Testing:

In Ontario, PCR tests will no longer be available to staff and students or the general public, so screening for symptoms and treating any symptom as confirmation of omicron is the recommendation.  The ministry hopes to provide more rapid tests for staff and students in the weeks to come.

With the start of school moved to January 5th we would ask that you use the last 2 tests on January 3rd and the morning of January 5th.

This will ensure the best chance of a safe return for all.  Please make a best effort to honour this request.

Screening:

It is more important than ever before, that anyone feeling ill should not attend school. All children, students, staff, and visitors must be screened for symptoms of illness every day before attending school or childcare.  Any student or staff member with any symptom should not report to school.

To help meet this requirement, you may use the provincial screening tool found here: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/.

Confirmation of self-screening will still be a requirement when we return to school and we will continue to reinforce masking and hand hygiene, as well as cohorting and physical distancing with students and our staff.

Case and Contact Management:

Public Health will no longer support case and contact management for schools.  Therefore – if you or your child believe that you are dealing with a case of COVID, (because you have one or more symptoms) it is up to you to ensure household contacts remain isolated and to ensure you remain isolated until the positive case is both symptom free for 24 hours and it has been 5 days since symptom onset for vaccinated individuals (2 vaccines) and 10 days since symptom onset for unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals.

Household contacts should also isolate for the duration of the isolation of the positive case. We hope to receive further guidance from Public Health and will share it as it becomes available.

Learning Continuity:

We know that many of the doctors and experts believe that the best place for a student is in school, and we know that our students and staff have been very pleased to return to in person learning this school year.  We do agree that for most students it is where they learn best.

We will not be entertaining new requests to switch to St Isidore at this time, as this would necessitate a full re-organization of the school system.

We will be reviewing learning continuity options in the days to come and when students are absent they can check on their class Google or D2L site for their learning.  We will offer more updates in the days to come.

Masks: 

Students will be provided with expanded access to free high quality three-ply cloth masks.  We encourage our students to use these masks and to wash them on a regular basis.  The use of these specific masks is not mandatory but encouraged as they may be more effective than some of the current one- and two-ply cloth masks being used.  In addition, the Ministry will also provide education staff with the option to use either the current medical grade masks or a non-fit-tested N95 mask.

Socializing:

The holidays are typically characterized as a time to gather.  There are only a few days left but please consider if all public health guidelines are being observed and ensure you do not gather if you are not well.  Our children will rely on us to guide them and to make strong, responsible decisions on their behalf.

Vaccination:

Vaccination for children ages 5 – 11 is currently underway.  Booster shots for anyone over 18 years of age have been possible since Monday, December 20th.  Vaccination remains the best defence against COVID-19, as endorsed by experts at the Ontar