Photo By: Muneer Ahmed Ok from Unsplash

Last week, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that elementary and secondary schools will reopen for in-person classes starting Monday, Jan. 17. This decision came merely two weeks after their initial announcement of virtual classes following the winter break, out of an abundance of caution in the wake of the newly detected Omicron variant. 

“We have now shipped 9.1 million non-fitted N95 masks for staff and over four million three-ply masks for students and will regularly send new shipments over the coming weeks and months, with masking being mandatory within Ontario schools,” read a statement released by the office of Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “Recognizing the challenges posed by Omicron, these measures will help stabilize the school workforce as we continue to do everything we can to keep kids learning.”

For many parents, especially those with young children, this comes as good news. While some older students have the technical knowledge to be successful in the virtual learning environment alone, the same cannot necessarily be said for most younger students.

However, many have cited concerns about the government’s decision to pause the collection and reporting of COVID-19 case data from school boards across the province. Under this new framework, parents will not be notified of a positive case detected in the classroom, nor will students in close contact be required to isolate (unless they are symptomatic).

“I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not as worried mainly because I’ve taught my kids why wearing a mask and keeping our distance is important,” said Katie Cizek, mother of three. “Yes, being in class is good for our kids’ mental health, but no longer informing families if they have had direct contact is not okay. It feels as if the government/school board is moving backwards…it feels like we are no longer working as a team. It’s every family for themselves.”

According to the most recent guidance, schools will be providing rapid antigen tests for students to take home. Symptomatic individuals will be asked to take two rapid tests, 24 hours apart, and required to stay home until receiving a negative result. Furthermore, the province plans to launch in-school vaccination clinics for students five years and older during instructional hours. 

Finally, in an effort to stabilize the workforce, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation has broadened criteria for retired educators as well as first-year teacher candidates to step in where necessary.

It is anticipated that these measures, combined with high-quality masks, improved ventilation, and stricter screening will allow students to continue with in-person learning through the end of the school year. However, remote learning remains an option for families who wish to access it.