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Returning to School amid COVID: What’s the situation nationwide?

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

Across Canada, the general principle set in place is that students from Grade 4 and up will wear face masks, while mask use from Kindergarten-Grade 3 will remain optional. In many provinces, if the proper 6 ft. in distancing is maintained between staff and students, masks can be removed while seated.

Many, especially parents, welcome the return to school. Many have struggled to manage caring for their children and work during the COVID-19 crisis. However, parents who are not comfortable with returning to school still can opt their children out of in-person classes and instead place them in an online learning platform.

Students displaying symptoms of COVID-19 who have previously experienced allergies or other medical conditions will still need to test negative once before returning to the classroom.

In Ontario, students are asked to sit one meter apart. Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has stated that: "Within our schools, we have introduced comprehensive layers of protection. The Chief Medical Officer of Health has said that masking, in addition to at least 1-metre of distancing plus hand-hygiene, the fact that we have public health nurses, which no restaurants that I am aware of have those embedded in their institutions."

Some teachers in Ontario have stated that the 1-metre distancing is impossible given their classroom's physical size. Minister Lecce has responded by saying: "Every school board has the resources to ensure distancing."

In Eastern Canada, the return to school is operating similarly to the rest of the country, with many students offering their support of returning to classrooms. Across Canada, many students are looking forward to seeing friends and being back in a familiar learning environment—despite the pandemic-induced changes.

The goal for in-classroom learning during this bizarre year is for classrooms to become a bubble of their own for children, with efforts to limit contact between said bubbles. For example, students in both elementary and high school will likely see a lot less of other classes, and in-classroom lunch will become the norm for the time being.

One primary concern from all parties involved in returning to school is transportation to and from school. With students taking buses, the whole point of "classroom bubbles" seems to be diminished. Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO) has produced a video encouraging safety on the bus.

The video encourages students to report symptoms, wash hands, distance themselves from other students on the bus, and wear masks. However, given the number of students on the bus, staying 6 ft. apart will likely be very difficult.

Of course, the last thing anyone wants is for an outbreak to occur, and so school staff will be encouraged to test regularly, and students will have to play it safe when experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms this year. The coming months will be crucial for the future of education, and online-learning will likely become more readily sought out option.

In metropolitan areas like Toronto, nearly one-third of elementary students and over one-fifth of high school students will continue learning from home. In Montreal, the vast majority of classes held in Anglophone universities (including McGill and Concordia) will be online-only.

For students anxious about returning to school (and according to Children's Mental Health Ontario, 90% are), the best advice is to follow the COVID-19 protocols and ensure that they return to school is enjoyable. Many students have not seen their friends for months; therefore, this will be an excellent opportunity to improve mental health and engage with the curriculum that was sorely missed.

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