Letter from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore.
We know how critical in-person learning is to the mental health, well-being, and academic success of Ontario students. As we meet the challenge presented by the Omicron variant, we are building upon Ontario’s cautious and leading plan to protect in-person learning.
Ontario students and children have benefitted from continuous efforts to keep schools and child care settings safer, including high quality masks, enhanced cleaning, and improvements in air ventilation in every school – with more than 70,000 HEPA filter units and other ventilation devices deployed. In December, Ontario sent a total of 11 million rapid antigen tests home with students to help protect against the spread of COVID-19 and to support the safe return to in-person learning following the winter break.
We are taking nothing for granted. Health and safety in our schools and child care settings remains a top priority and we continue to monitor to ensure that every precaution is taken to protect children, students, and staff and to support continued safe in-person learning.
The Children’s Health Coalition – representing Ontario’s children’s hospitals, mental health agencies and rehabilitation centres – has emphasized that in-person education is critical to the mental health, development and well-being of children and youth. Ontario students in publicly funded schools will return to in-person learning on January 5, 2022 for school boards previously scheduled to return January 3 to prepare for the public health measures announced on Dec. 30, 2021.
In response to the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, Ontario is putting in place additional health and safety measures to create more layers of protection to keep schools as safe as possible for in-person learning, which is critical to the positive mental health and academic success of students.
• Updating the COVID-19 school and child care screener ahead of the return to school on January 5 and asking students, parents and staff for rigorous screening and monitoring of symptoms.
• Providing non-fit-tested N95 masks for staff in schools and licensed child care settings as an optional alternative to medical/surgical masks, and additional supply of high-quality three-ply cloth masks that are strongly encouraged and free for students and children in January.
• Deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to school boards, building on the existing 70,000 HEPA filter units and ventilation devices already in schools.
• Continuing PCR testing eligibility for symptomatic elementary and secondary students, education staff and participating private and First Nation operated schools who have received a PCR self-collection kit through their school.
• Starting in January, temporarily permitting only low-contact indoor sports and safe extra-curricular activities.
• Updating COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards and child care in January.
• Supporting the projected hiring of over 2,000 staff, funded by a $304 million allocation for second semester that includes additional teachers, custodians, and mental health workers.
Furthermore, to maintain operational safety given anticipated higher rates of absenteeism, school boards are directed to exhaust all efforts to fill staff vacancies, including through substitute and retired teachers, before shifting to online learning.
Ontario’s schools are also benefitting from high rates of vaccination. We thank students, parents, and staff for helping to keep our schools and child care settings safe by getting vaccinated. With 400 school-focused clinics underway, Ontario has one of the highest rates of vaccination in Canada. More than 85.9% per cent of youth aged 12 to 17 have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 82.2% per cent have received a second dose and 43.1% percent of Ontario children between ages 5 and 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
We encourage everyone who is eligible for a vaccination or booster to get vaccinated to further protect students as they return to school. It is natural to have questions about the vaccine. Parents or guardians with concerns can reach out to the SickKids COVID-19 Vaccine Consult Service at www.sickkids.ca/vaccineconsult, or 1-888-304-6558 to book a consultation. The consultation service is available in multiple languages, using over-thephone language interpretation. Parents and caregivers can also contact the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre at 1-833-943- 3900 to receive more information from a health specialist.
By working together, we can help Ontario students achieve a successful continuation of inperson learning this winter. Please take a moment to review a few key important reminders or visit Ontario’s website to learn more about COVID-19.
Dr, Kieran Moore Stephen Lecce
Chief Medical Officer of Health Minister of Education