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Ontario students return to the classroom on Jan. 17. Here's what you need to know

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The Ontario government announced children will return to in-person learning on Monday, following an initial two-day delay and a two-week pivot to remote learning.

New COVID-19 screening, testing and reporting will be introduced . Here’s everything you need to know.

When does in-person learning start?

Ontario schools will resume in-person learning on Jan. 17.

Will my child be cohorting?

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said “time-limited” cohorting will be introduced to reduce direct and indirect contacts between children.

Lecce said that will include pausing some high contact sports, stricter lunch cohort protocols and elevated cleaning requirements.

What are the screening symptoms for self-isolating?

New provincial guidance now identifies the following symptoms, which require self-isolation, including a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, a headache, extreme tiredness, muscle aches or joint pain and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. For the full list, click here.

How long does my child need to self-isolate?

A child's isolation period is dependent on their symptoms.

If a child only has one symptom from the following list – sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, extreme tiredness, muscle aches or joint pain and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea – they can stay home until their symptoms subside for at least 24-hours.

However, if a student has two or more of the symptoms listed above, the guidance requires one negative PCR test, two negative rapid tests, or a five to 10 day isolation period. Students must remain at home until their symptoms subside.

How does vaccination status impact a student’s isolation period?

The new government guidelines indicate that students aged 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated must isolate for 10-days if they show COVID-19 symptoms. Their 10-day count either starts on the date symptoms begin or the date of a positive test, whichever comes first.

Fully vaccinated children aged 12 and older must isolate for five days if they show COVID-19 symptoms. They can then return to the classroom 24-hours after their symptoms improve.

All students under the age of 12 can exit self-isolation after five days regardless of vaccination status, as long as their symptoms subside. 

Can my child get a free PCR test?

Only children who show the most indicative symptoms of COVID-19 – fever, trouble breathing, chills or a sudden loss of taste or smell – will be guaranteed access to a PCR test. Students will only be eligible for a PCR test if they develop symptoms at school.

For students who have less indicative symptoms, such as a runny nose, extreme fatigue, headache or a sore throat, they will need to show two or more symptoms to qualify for a PCR test.

PCR tests will no longer be available to cohorts facing outbreaks or children exposed to COVID-19.

Can my child get a free rapid test?

The Ontario government said it will give two COVID-19 rapid tests to each student and staff member when in-person learning returns on Jan. 17.

Beginning on Monday, the government said 3.9-million rapid antigen tests will be distributed first to staff in child care and public schools, children in child care settings, and students in public elementary schools, followed by secondary school students.

More tests will be provided once the government has the supply. Another 1.2-million rapid tests are expected to be distributed the week of Jan. 24.

Will I be notified if my child is exposed to COVID-19?

Parents should not expect to be notified if their child is exposed to a positive COVID-19 case at school.

The Ontario government said parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak if approximately 30 per cent of students in their school are absent.

Given the widespread transmission of COVID-19, Health Minister Christine Elliot said reporting and disclosing cases is unrealistic.

While case counts will no longer be publicly posted, the ministry said it will continue to report school and child-care closures due to COVID-19.

Can my child continue virtual learning? Can I switch to virtual learning later?

For TDSB parents who selected the virtual learning route for their child before Jan.7, their remote selection will continue. However, for parents who are hoping to switch from in-person to virtual learning, the date to make that decision has passed. The TDSB said the date cannot be extended given the time needed to organize classes.

The rules may be different across school boards.

What new protocols have been introduced to keep kids safe?

The government has provided 10-million non-fitted N95 masks to school staff and more than 4-million three ply masks for students.

To improve ventilation, more than 70,000 HEPA filter units and 3,000 standalone HEPA filters have been added to schools across the province, according to the government. The Minister of Education said the filters were shipped to schools and should be arriving soon.

Vaccination appointments have been accelerated for school staff and students who are eligible.

Will there be enough supply teachers to cover when teachers get sick?

The province is allowing retired teachers to return to the classroom for 95 days instead of the previous limit of 50-days, in an effort to address pandemic-related staffing shortages.

The government also said approximately 2,350 projected staff will be hired to address absenteeism, including teachers, custodians and mental health workers.

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