Operational Guidelines

Protocols for Working in Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

operational guidelines

Table of Contents:
(Updated October 18, 2021)

Operational Guidelines by Role:

Additional Operational Guidelines for:

COVID 19 and the 2021-22 School Year

On August 3, 2021, the Ontario Ministry of Education – with the approval of the Chief Medical Officer of Health – released COVID 19: Health, Safety and Operational Guidance for Schools

The government will monitor the COVID-19 situation, including ongoing risks related to variants of concern (VOCs) and alignment with broader provincial guidance and direction. The ministry will continue to work with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and local public health units (PHUs) to assess key measures to inform and update provincial guidance and direction, including lifting measures when appropriate. Local public health units may require additional or enhanced health and safety measures based on local experience and data. Medical officers of health in local public health units also have statutory powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which they may use to address outbreaks or risks of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

As always with respect to health concerns, the WCDSB takes its guidance from the appropriate medical authorities and follows all legislation and mandated protocols. This includes legislation, regulations and mandated protocols regarding masking, COVID-19 screening / testing and vaccines.

The protocols in this document have been developed based on information provided by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Region of Waterloo Public Health – as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 

Please refer to the Government of Ontario document COVID-19: Stop the Spread. 

Protocols for Managing COVID-19 in Schools 

Please refer to the Government of Ontario document: COVID-19 Guidance: School Case, Contact and Outbreak Management 

Mandatory Declaration of Vaccination Status for all Staff

On August 17, 2021, the Government of Ontario announced plans to implement an immunization disclosure policy for all publicly funded school board employees, staff in private schools and licensed child care settings and other individuals regularly in these settings, for the 2021-22 school year.

This includes frequent school visitors / volunteers, Trustees, school transportation drivers and other professionals who deliver services in schools and interact with students and staff, including third-party contractors.

However, one-time only, or infrequent visitors, need only provide proof of screening to enter the building. They must wear a mask and maintain appropriate physical distance.

Regular rapid antigen testing requirements will be in place for staff who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Individuals who do not intend to be vaccinated, without a documented medical reason, will be required to participate in an educational session about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.

“Fully vaccinated against COVID-19” means having received all of the doses required for a COVID-19 vaccine(s) approved by the World Health Organization (e.g., two doses of a two-dose vaccine, or one dose of a single-dose vaccine); and having received the final vaccine dose at least 14 days ago.

To provide proof of vaccination, individuals with an Ontario photo health card can log in to the provincial portal (https://covid19.ontariohealth.ca/) or print an electronic COVID-19 vaccine receipt (PDF) for each dose received.  WCDSB will have a portal on WESS where all staff can declare their status and upload their documents.

PLEASE NOTE:When you visit the provincial vaccine portal to download your vaccine certificates, be sure you have ticked the “I have read and understand the terms of use” box and then click “Continue”. This will open the download page.

Proof of a medical reason for not being vaccinated must be provided by either a physician or a nurse practitioner (note: A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who holds an extended certificate of registration  under the Nursing Act, 1991).

Key Dates:

  •  By September 7, 2021: Individuals covered by the policy are expected to submit a formal attestation if they are “fully vaccinated” against COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination (i.e. upload or provide vaccination receipt(s)). 
  • By September 10, 2021: School boards are expected to share aggregated, depersonalized attestation statistical information with the ministry in an electronic format and continue doing so on a monthly basis. 
  • By September 15, 2021: School boards are expected to publicly post aggregated, depersonalized attestation statistical information and continue doing so on a monthly basis. 

Mandatory Masking 

Students in Grades K to 12 are required to wear properly fitted non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes, as well as on school vehicles. Masks may be temporarily removed indoors for the following activities, with a minimum distance of two metres maintained between cohorts and as much distancing as possible within a cohort to: 

  • engage in low-contact physical activity 
  • consume food or drink 

Students are not required to wear masks outdoors, but distancing should be encouraged between cohorts as much as possible. 

Students in kindergarten must wear masks, but an exemption form will not be required if a student is unable to do so. 

Students are expected to bring their own masks to wear on student transportation and at school. Non-medical 3-ply masks will also be made available by schools for students if needed. 

For further information regarding masking in WCDSB schools, please read APH 034 – Student Masking During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Daily COVID-19 Screening 

All staff and students must self-screen every day before attending school. School boards should provide parents with a checklist to perform daily screening of their children before arriving at school and self-assessment tools should be made available to staff to ensure awareness of possible symptoms of COVID-19.  

The online self-screening tool is available here: COVID-19 Daily Self Screening Tool 

All staff and students who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as identified in the screening tool, must not attend school and should follow the guidance provided in the screening tool, which may include seeking appropriate medical attention as required, and/or getting tested for COVID-19. 

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) – Minimum Standard –

All school staff members will receive two (2) level 1 or 2 masks each day.  PPE must always be worn when performing the duties of your job, which means a mask as a minimum standard. Medical masks (surgical/procedural) are required to be worn by staff outdoors if two metres of distance from others cannot be maintained. Eye protection is also required if a staff member comes within two metres of an unmasked individual, both indoors and outdoors, as per occupational health and safety requirements. Additional job functions will require additional PPE per below. 

General Signage at School Sites

All schools will have signage that directs staff, students and visitors regarding physical distancing, masking and directional flow.  Signage will be site specific but will always speak to minimum standards required to ensure safe distances and protocols.

Operational Guidelines by Role

  • Ensure all staff are following the protocols contained herein.
  • Designate a room or area that may be used to isolate a student or staff member in the event COVID-19 symptoms are present. Any student or staff member in isolation must wear a mask, if possible.  Arrangements for staff and students with symptoms must be made immediately after the recognition of symptoms.
  • Develop hallway protocols such that the flow of students throughout the school minimizes the mixing of cohorts and the passing of individuals face to face with less than 2 meters separating them. 
  • Ensure all signage regarding symptoms and handwashing is in place.
  • Any visitors to a school must self-screen before arrival and are required to wear a  medical mask. https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/
  • Ensure hand sanitizer is available at school entrances and the main office.
  • Ensure every classroom has a suitable supply of hand sanitizer.
  • Elementary schools are encouraged to schedule bathroom visits for classes. Entry to bathrooms should be staggered to the extent possible based on local circumstance and size of facility.  Where individual students need to go to the bathroom, encourage hand hygiene before and after.
  • Water fountains are closed. Water bottle filling stations will be left open.  Families should be encouraged to send water bottles (filled if possible) with their children each day.
  • Items such as Chromebooks, computers and learning resources may be shared between students.  Continue to encourage regular hand hygiene.
  • Ensure that desks are arranged to face forward where possible.
  • Promote that cleaning during the day will be a team effort. Cleaning supplies will be provided to schools.
  • Most Secondary students will eat lunch in their classrooms with proximal supervision.  Students may leave school during lunch, but cannot return until the start of their second period. Cafeterias are permitted to open where needed with 2 metre distance between students.  Masks must be worn when students are not eating.
  • Student flow into and out of buildings should be managed by schools and coordinated by Administrators to ensure adequate physical distancing and hand hygiene.  Sanitizer will be placed at all exits.
  • Portable plexi shields will be allocated to schools for one-to-one work with students. These plexi-glass shields will need to be cleaned between use with different students.
  • Lockers are available for use by students. Students must be masked at lockers. Allow a 5-minute time limit at the lockers. 
  • Students are required to provide their own masks for use while in school.  A back up supply of masks will be provided to schools for students who do not have a mask available. 
  • All staff must complete the self-screening daily before reporting to work. If they do not pass the screening, they should notify their principal.
  • Instruct students on proper handwashing and hand sanitizing techniques.
  • Instruct students on proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Ensure students wash or sanitize hands upon leaving and entering the classroom.
  • Singing is permitted indoors. Masking is encouraged but not required for singing indoors if a minimum distance of two metres can be maintained between cohorts and as much distancing as possible maintained within a cohort 
  • Use of wind instruments is permitted indoors within a cohort if a minimum distance of two metres or more can be maintained. As much distance as possible should be encouraged and use of large, well-ventilated spaces should be prioritized.  
  • Use of wind instruments is permitted outdoors in mixed cohorts with distancing encouraged. 
    • Indicate whether there are students attending class virtually in SmartFind in the case of teacher absence (i.e. Hybrid) 
  • To decrease the number of touch surface throughout the day, consider maintaining a small container with your own whiteboard marker, pen, etc.
  • Maintain 2 metres distancing to the extent possible, with a minimum of 1 metre distancing  between all individuals, including with students.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Please see the section on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

(Teachers, Education Assistants, Child and Youth Care Workers, etc)

  • Refer to other sections of this guide for information specific to your role.
  • PPE will be provided at the office of the school where you have accepted an assignment.
  • Supply/Replacement/Occasional school staff are not restricted from accepting assignments from any school.
  • Information regarding protocols at a specific school will be available at the individual school (e.g. entrances and exits, washroom schedules)
  • Occasional teachers will be notified via Smartfind if they have students attending a class virtually (I.e. Hybrid).
  • Guidance counsellors follow the same protocols as regular classroom teachers within the school. 
  • If meeting with students in an office, guidance counsellors and students will be masked. 
  • Meetings with parents/guardians should be done virtually whenever possible. Face-to- face meetings may take place with proper masking and when distancing is possible. Please reference Visitor’s section. 
  • Eye protection is not required for education staff working with students who wear masks. 
  • For the 2021-22 school year, regular EQAO assessments for grades 3 and 6 will resume in the new digital format for math, reading and writing.  
  • Students in Grade 9 math will write the Grade 9 math digital adaptive assessment and the results of the assessment may count towards up to 10% of the student’s final mark.  
  • EQAO assessments are required to be done in-person at the school. Students learning remotely can choose to participate in the EQAO assessments in-person at the discretion of the school board as long as all applicable health and safety measures can be met. 
  • Co-op teachers follow the same protocols as regular classroom teachers within the school. 
  • For students enrolled in cooperative education courses, in-person community placements can be arranged in alignment with the relevant provincial requirements. 
  • If in-person placements are not possible, students should be offered virtual placements. In the event that public health guidance or direction changes during a placement and the student cannot complete their co-op placement in-person or virtually, educators should work with the student to modify their co-op learning plans that allow the student to achieve the curriculum expectations and earn the credit(s).   
  • Co-op teachers will review safety protocols with students for their placements as per regular practice. 
  • In dealing with co-op employers, teachers will work in consultation with the employer to determine if it safe to visit the worksite. When this is not possible, teachers may meet using a virtual platform/phone/email. 
  • Organize classrooms so that students are facing the same direction and distanced to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Minimize the movement of students as much as possible. 
  • Tools, equipment, machinery and materials  may be shared between students. The risk associated with transmission with shared objects is low. The focus should be on regular hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to reduce the risk of infection related to shared equipment, particularly when regular cleaning of shared objects is not feasible  
  •  Students must engage in proper hand hygiene before and after the use of shared tools, equipment, machinery and materials. 

How to clean and disinfect reusable PPE

A: Goggles, Safety Glasses, Face Shields, Welding helmets, Hard hats etc. (e.g. anything that has a hard, non-porous surface)

  1. Wipe the inside and outside with a clean cloth with mild detergent.
  2. Wipe the inside and outside with disinfectant, sufficiently wetting the entire surface to permit the required wet contact time.
  3. Allow the surface to remain wet for the contact time as stated on the product label and let air dry.
  4. Remove gloves (if worn) and wash hands.
  5. Continue to assess safety equipment/PPE for integrity, ensuring it is is not breaking down or cracked.

B: Hospitality aprons, hairstyling and aesthetics gowns, towels and linens

  • Where possible such items are not to be shared and can be designated for individual student use over a number of days.
    • All shared items must be laundered between student use and/or between classes. If they cannot be cleaned and sanitized, then the class must be modified to limit the use of these items.
  • Regular detergent can be used for laundering. Set washer and dryer on the hot cycle.
  • The laundry baskets should be cleaned and disinfected between use.

C: PPE that cannot be clean and disinfected or laundered after each use (e.g. welding chaps, jackets and gloves, beanies and coveralls)

  • Disinfectants are intended for use on hard surfaces and require a level of saturation and wait time that cannot be achieved on fabrics and leathers. Therefore, disinfectants are not to be used to clean fabric or leather PPE.
  • Such items may only be shared between students after they have been isolated for a minimum of 72 hours.
  • Minimize the movement of students as much as possible. 
  • Avoid sharing of lab equipment to the greatest extent possible. The risk associated with transmission with shared objects is low. The focus should be on regular hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to reduce the risk of infection related to shared equipment, particularly when regular cleaning of shared objects is not feasible.
  • Any equipment that is not shared must be cleaned after each class. If students assist with the cleaning, they must be instructed on how to do so properly. 
  • If feasible, any equipment that is shared must be cleaned between each use. Students must engage in proper hand hygiene before and after the use of shared equipment. 
  • Depending on the type of equipment, it may be cleaned using a wipe, cloth and disinfectant or with the dip method. 
  • Goggles must be cleaned after each used with a wipe, cloth and disinfectant or goggle sterilizer.  Continue to assess safety equipment/PPE for integrity, ensuring it is not breaking down or cracked.
  • Maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible between all individuals, including with students, to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Instruct students on proper handwashing, physical distancing and hand sanitizing techniques. Develop and provide verbal cues, pics and social stories to assist.  If a student touches their face, mouth or nose, support student in washing hands, whenever possible.
  • Instruct students on proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Ensure students wash or sanitize hands upon leaving and entering the classroom.
  • Items such as Chromebooks, computers and learning resources may be shared between students.  Continue to encourage regular hand hygiene.  
  • Where hand over hand support is required, remain at the student’s side using a diagonal supportive stance. If possible, ask the student not to speak and to turn their head away.  Wash hands and support student in washing hands after hand over hand support.
  • Items used to support self-regulation (e.g. fidgets) must be clearly marked for use by specific students. Inventory SEA OT items for each student.  Use only items that child finds helpful to access curriculum.  Such items must be disinfected after each use.  Use a disinfectant wipe, but ensure the item is rinsed with water afterword.  All other OT items not being used should be stored.  Items such as cozy swings or designates safe spaces must only be used by a single student unless the item or space can be disinfected between uses.  Special reinforcers or items must be clearly marked for use by a single student.
  • Ensure SEA items are only used by the intended student and not shared with other students.
  • If a student requires the use of specialized equipment (e.g. helmet, stander, stroller/wheelchair or lift), wash hands, then remain at student’s side using a diagonal supportive stance, ask student not to speak and to turn their head away, if possible. Wash hands after support has been provided.
  • If a student requires medication, wash hands prior to administering the medication. Wear gloves if required by the health care provider’s recommendations and follow protocol for donning and doffing of gloves.
  • In the event of salivating or spitting behaviour, please note that if the student is asymptomatic and in good health, the risk of transmission is low. Wipe down any area with saliva with approved sanitizer or disinfectant wipes to remove the organic material, then apply disinfectant at the recommended concentration and contact time following manufacturer’s directions.  If it is a desk or chair, rinse the area with clean water and a paper towel after disinfecting, after the recommended contact time has been met.    Wash hands and/or affected areas with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not readily available.  Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) will be worn when working with students who exhibit this behaviour.
  • In the event of biting behaviour, wash hands and the affected area with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not readily available.  Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) will be worn when working with students who exhibit this behaviour.
  • In the event of self-injurious behaviours, continue to follow safety plan and maintain an appropriate and safe distance from the student where it is safe for the student to do so. Where physical distance cannot be maintained for the safety of the student, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when it is safe to do so.  Use hand sanitizer where soap and water are not available. PPE (medical mask) will be worn when working with students who exhibit this behaviour. Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) may be required as determined by the in-school team.
  • Program consultants and numeracy/literacy itinerant staff are able to return to in school (face to face) to provide student support. They are permitted to go into classrooms, and multiple schools to provide the full breadth of programming for students. 
  • Staff must complete Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/ prior to entering the school site and follow self-assessment instructions (e.g., self-isolating and seeking testing if indicated).   Staff that do not pass the screening procedures should not attend school and should notify their supervisor.  
  • When entering the school site ensure entry and exit protocols are followed and ensure a room designation is known prior to entry. Ensure a mask is worn. 
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) including both medical masks (surgical/ procedural) and eye protection (for example, face shield or goggles and some, but not all, safety glasses) is required for education staff working in close contact with students who are not wearing masks. 
  • Staff who have office space designated within a school will follow all protocols of entry and exit from the school as directed by their School Administrator and will be provided with PPE by the School Administrator 
  • Staff who have office space designated in the Catholic Education Centre will follow the set protocols for masking, distancing, and sanitizing.  
  • Maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible between all individuals, including with students, to the greatest extent possible.  
  • Instruct students on proper handwashing, social distancing and hand sanitizing techniques.  Develop and provide verbal cues, pics and social stories to assist. If a student touches their face, mouth or nose, support student in washing hands, whenever possible. 
  • Instruct students on proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Ensure students wash or sanitize hands upon leaving and entering the classroom.
  • Items such as Chromebooks, computers and learning resources may be shared between students.  Continue to encourage regular hand hygiene.  
  • Where hand over hand support is required, remain at the student’s side using a diagonal supportive stance. If possible, ask the student not to speak and to turn their head away.  Wash hands and support student in washing hands after hand over hand support.
  • Items used to support self-regulation (e.g. fidgets) must be clearly marked for use by specific students. Inventory SEA OT items for each student.  Use only items that child finds helpful to access curriculum.  Such items must be disinfected after each use.  Use a disinfectant wipe, but ensure the item is rinsed with water afterword.  All other OT items not being used should be stored.  Items such as cozy swings or designates safe spaces must only be used by a single student unless the item or space can be disinfected between uses.  Special reinforcers or items must be clearly marked for use by a single student.
  • Ensure SEA items are only used by the intended student and not shared with other students.
  • If a student requires medication, wash hands prior to administering the medication. Wear gloves if required by the health care provider’s recommendations and follow protocol for donning and doffing of gloves.
  • If a student requires toileting, wear a mask, gloves, eye protection (face shield or goggles) and gown. Wash hands prior to and after toileting.  Follow protocols for donning and doffing masks, gloves, eye protection and gowns.
  • If a student requires support when eating, wash hands before and after providing support. Avoid bare hand contact with a student’s mouth.  Use utensils, paper towels or dispensing equipment to handle food.  Avoid sharing of food.
  • In the event of salivating or spitting behaviour, please note that if the student is asymptomatic and in good health, the risk of transmission is low. Wipe down any area with saliva with approved sanitizer or disinfectant wipes.  If it is a desk or chair, rinse the area with clean water and a paper towel after disinfecting.  Wash hands and/or affected areas with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not readily available.  Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) will be worn when working with students who exhibit this behaviour.
  • In the event of biting behaviour, wash hands and the affected area with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water is not readily available.  Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) will be worn when working with students who exhibit this behaviour.
  • In the event of self-injurious behaviours, continue to follow safety plan and maintain an appropriate and safe distance from the student where it is safe for the student to do so. Where physical distance cannot be maintained for the safety of the student, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when it is safe to do so.  Use hand sanitizer where soap and water are not available.  Additional PPE (gloves, shield and gown) may be required as determined by the in-school team.
  • Maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible between all individuals, including with students, to the greatest extent possible. 
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment. For clarity – a mask must be worn and if in close contact a face shield, goggles or board-approved safety glasses must also be worn.
  • Secondary chaplains will follow all protocols of entry and exit from the school as directed by their School Administrator and will be provided with PPE by the School Administrator.
  • When entering the school site ensure entry and exit protocols are followed and ensure a room designation is known prior to entry.
  • Elementary chaplains who have office space designated in the Catholic Education Centre will follow the set protocols for masking, distancing and sanitizing.
  • Based on the MOE’s Operational Guidance, Student Services Staff are permitted to return to the CEC and/or school work sites.  Additionally, specialized education staff and Itinerant Teachers are permitted to go into classrooms and multiple schools to provide the full breadth of programming/support for students. 
  • Student Services Staff will notify the School Administrator prior to entering the school site.  Staff must complete Ontario’s COVID-19 self-assessment https://covid-19.ontario.ca/school-screening/ prior to entering the school site and follow self-assessment instructions (e.g., self-isolating and seeking testing if indicated). Student Services staff should notify their immediate superordinate in the event of a positive test.
  • When entering the school site ensure entry and exit protocols are followed and ensure a room designation is known prior to entry. Staff are expected to sign in/out and note which classroom or student they are visiting.  Maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible between all individuals, including with students, to the greatest extent possible. Ensure you wear a mask.  Where distance cannot be maintained for 15 minutes or more, PPE must be worn (medical mask and face shield, goggles or board-approved safety glasses).
  • Student Services staff who have office space designated within a school will follow all protocols of entry and exit from the school as directed by their School Administrator and will be provided with PPE by the School Administrator
  • Student Services staff who have office space designated in the Board Office will continue to complete the Covid Screener prior to attending work, social distance between self and others and wear a mask as per Public Health guidelines. 
  • The WCDSB will work closely with their treatment partners for the following programs: Young Adult Program (YAP), Child and Adolescent Inpatient Program (CAIP) Anishnabeg Outreach and Lutherwood, to update and implement COVID-19 safety protocol for both students and staff. 
  • This plan will strive to honour the requirements and needs of both organizations.
  • It will be a collaborative process and will be shared with staff and students prior to school entry.
  • Maintain distancing to the greatest extent possible between all individuals, including with students, to the greatest extent possible.
  • Instruct students on proper handwashing and hand sanitizing techniques.
  • Instruct students on proper cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Ensure students wash or sanitize hands upon leaving and entering the classroom.
  • Ensure students are not sharing items – pencils, food, manipulatives, etc.
  • Avoid activities that will increase the spread of respiratory droplets from students such as singing or cheering.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • All staff providers are required to wear a medical mask and face shield, goggles or board-approved safety glasses while inside the before and after school programs, including hallways.