TORONTO -- The Toronto District School Board says it will exceed Ontario guidelines set up to mitigate COVID-19 in schools this year, banning unmasked singing indoors, large assemblies in gymnasiums and is still considering how to permit high-contact sports and other extracurriculars indoors.

In a return to school plan presented to trustees on Tuesday evening, board staff said they would go beyond provincial guidelines released earlier this month in a number of areas, including requiring students to stay in “cohorts” even when dismissed outside for recess.

Slides from the presentation published on Twitter by Trustee Shelley Laskin indicate the TDSB will only allow assemblies outdoors or on a virtual platform this year, whereas provincial officials gave indoor assemblies the green light.

“Vocal music” will only be allowed indoors if all participants are wearing masks, whereas the Ministry of Education approved singing indoors if singers could maintain two metres of distance between them.

While the provincial plan endorsed resuming all sports teams and other extracurriculars, TDSB staff say they are still developing a plan for a “phased-in” resumption of activities.

On ventilation, a key area of this year’s provincial plan, the TDSB says it will have HEPA air filters in every occupied space in all schools, even if that school already has adequately filtered central mechanical ventilation.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce had pledged for HEPA filtration in all occupied student spaces involving Kindergarten students or in school areas without adequate mechanical ventilation.

Asked specifically about the TDSB going beyond provincial guidelines, Lecce’s spokesperson Caitlin Clark said everything in the plan was generated by the chief medical officer.

“Our government has and will continue to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to ensure the safety of our schools, students and staff,” she said. “As recommended by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, layers of prevention in place will keep schools as safe as possible, with distancing, testing, strict screening protocols and improved ventilation in 100% of schools, including HEPA filters in all JK/SK classes and in all learning spaces without mechanical ventilation.”

“We are taking further action by implementing vaccination disclosure policies for education workers, increasing access to the COVID-19 vaccine for youth aged 11 born in 2009, and launching school-based vaccine clinics, to ensure we keep students and staff as safe as possible.”

In the event of an exposure at school, Toronto Public Health staff told trustees they will adhere to outbreak management guidelines released by the province last week, where fully vaccinated individuals will not have to self-isolate in the event of exposure if they are asymptomatic.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Tuesday that local public health units will have access to COVAX, the provincial database that contains all Ontario residents’ vaccination status, in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak for contact tracing purposes.

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Karen Brown said she approved of the TDSB’s additional measures.

“It’s a good move by the board – anything we can do to improve the safety of students and our members is to be commended.”

But she said the fact a school board needs to bolster a provincial plan is concerning.

“I think once again this highlights the failure on the plans of the Ford government didn’t go far enough in regards to the measures that need to be put in place. They’ve left it to individual boards to look at those issues and that’s unfortunate.”

Brown said it was also important that the province facilitate on-site COVID-19 testing at schools.

The board says 86 per cent of parents indicated a desire to return to in-person learning, up from 70 per cent last school year.

Staff say they are eyeing a start date for non-special needs students of Sept. 9.

There will be one time where parents can switch students between virtual and in-person instruction, sometime in February, 2022.