School Planning - COVID-19

Promotion for School Reopening information for parents

COVID-19 school resources for parents

Maintaining public health measures like staying home when you are sick, physical distancing, hand washing and mask wearing are very important within the school setting to reduce the likelihood of infection, contain outbreaks and protect those who are most vulnerable.

Learn more about COVID-19 in schools

Schools have the responsibility to ensure that staff and student health, safety and well-being are protected and measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 are implemented upon re-opening.

This information is to be used in conjunction with Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Public Health directives, guidelines, and recommendations.

School and child care screening

Online COVID-19 school and child care screening
Dépistage de la COVID-19 pour les écoles et les services de garde d’enfants

School outbreak guidance

Ministry school outbreak guidance for Ontario schools

A close contact is typically someone who had a prolonged exposure in close proximity to a person diagnosed with COVID-19. Hamilton Public Health Services identifies close contacts through a detailed review of factors such as the individual’s symptoms, where they have been, and who they have interacted with. Close contacts are contacted directly by Hamilton Public Health Services and receive further guidance, including the need to self-isolate, monitor for symptoms and implement infection prevention control measures.

The Hierarchy of Control

This school re-opening information was developed by Hamilton Public Health Services to aid in the development and evaluation of your school plans. Schools have the responsibility to ensure that staff and student health, safety and well-being are protected and measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 are implemented upon re-opening.

This information is to be used in conjunction with Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Public Health directives, guidelines, and recommendations. 

This system is used to minimize or eliminate exposure to hazards. Learn more about The Hierarchy of Control

Physical distancing is the most effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in community settings. Where possible physical distancing should be implemented, and schools should restructure their physical settings and modify policies and practices to ensure that they are supportive of this requirement. However, physical distancing may not be practical for certain age groups in a school setting. In these circumstances, consider other protective measures to prevent community COVID-19 spread.

All school re-opening plans should emphasize avoiding physical contact (e.g., hugging, high fives, wrestling) and should include how this will be taught/ communicated and enforced within a school setting. Consider teaching students alternative activities that can be done while maintaining physical distancing such as shadow tag, sports drills, or frisbee golf.

Video: Physical distancing (for kids)

This includes rearranging desks, classroom and group size limits, student flow and movement, spacing out work areas/desks, installing barriers or plexiglass between employees/staff and students/visitors if needed, ensuring proper and adequate ventilation that meets industry guidelines and standards.

Movement throughout the school

  • Develop methods to support general physical distancing. Create designated routes for students to get to and from classrooms. Consider, where possible, separate entrance points for students in different grades or areas within the school building.
  • Provide visual/physical guides (e.g., tape on floors, sidewalks, and signs/posters on walls) to ensure appropriate distances in lines and flow of movement (e.g., one-way routes in hallways).
  • Minimize the number of different teacher(s) and educational assistants that interact with each group.
  • Stagger pick up and drop off times. It is recommended that pick up/drop off occur outdoors/outside the school.
  • Stagger recess/snack, lunch and class transition times to provide the greatest amount of space for everyone and to ensure that there is a good flow in common areas/hallways.
  • Discourage congregating in hallways, stairwells, washrooms and other areas of the school.
  • Minimize the number of individuals entering schools (e.g., parents and non-staff). Remind guests of public health measures and implement a tracking system for visitors.
  • Determine how to manage community use of school and/or before and after school programs (e.g., external vendor involvement, snack time, hours of service/eligibility; athletic programs; and extracurricular activities).

Rearranging the physical environment

  • Consider different classroom and learning environment configurations to allow distance between students and teachers (e.g., do not group desks, consider dividers).
  • Organize students into smaller groups that stay together throughout the day and that remain consistent on a day-to-day basis.
  • Limit shared material and equipment. Establish clear protocols for bringing materials such as bags and school supplies into and out of schools.
  • Consider locker use (e.g., one locker per student, staggered access times, physical distancing between lockers in use).
  • Remove or reduce play with toys that encourage the likelihood of physical contact and toys that cannot be easily cleaned and disinfected (e.g., toys made from unfinished wood).
  • Take students outside more often (e.g., snack time, play-based learning, unstructured time outdoors).
  • Incorporate more individual activities and adapt group activities to minimize physical contact.

Physical infrastructure

As per Ministry Guidelines, it is expected that environmental conditions and indoor airflow may influence the transmissibility of COVID-19.

  • Adequately ventilated classroom environments are expected to be associated with less likelihood of transmission compared with poorly ventilated settings. 
    • Follow manufacturer’s maintenance measures for air handling systems (including inspection and replacement of filters, if applicable).
  • There may be instances of bladed and bladeless fan and portable air conditioner use in schools which also generate air currents that could affect respiratory droplets.
    • Minimize their use as much as possible (e.g., lowest setting), and make adjustments to direct the airflow upwards, away from surfaces and occupants may help gradually mix exhaled respiratory droplets while minimizing turbulence.
    • Regularly maintain these devices (e.g., surface cleaning including the blades), following manufacturer's directions for maintenance and removal of any moisture or water collected from portable air conditioners.
  • Open windows for circulation if able. Do not open windows if doing so poses a safety or health risk (e.g., risk of falling, triggering asthma symptoms, risk of bees/wasps) to students and staff and ensure that COVID-19 measures do not introduce new occupational hazards to the setting (e.g., do not prop open fire doors to increase ventilation/reduce exposure to frequently touched door handles).

This includes implementing health screening of all employees, staff, visitors and students; encouraging good hand washing and hygiene techniques; encouraging individuals to practice hand hygiene directly after contact with high touch areas; and increased cleaning and disinfecting.

Student transportation on buses

Buses used for transporting students should be cleaned and disinfected after each use/ride as per the Public Health Ontario cleaning and disinfection for public settings recommendations.

Review the Federal Guidance for school bus operation during the COVID-19 pandemic for recommended measures to take before, during and at the end of a bus trip.

Additional measures to consider include:

  • Working with families to understand transportation needs. Where possible private transportation should be considered as a means to decrease congestion.
  • Seating students from the same household together.
  • Allowing one student per row and/or assigning seats. Keep a record of this seating plan to share with public health should contact tracing be required.
  • Staggering bus pick-up and drop-off of students at the school where possible, to avoid crowding at the school entrance.
  • Loading buses from rear to front and unloading from front to rear. One student or household should stand up and exit at a time to minimize close contact between students.
  • Installing a physical barrier (e.g., plexiglass) between the driver and passengers.
  • Considering implementation of other public health measures such as face covering/mask wearing when unable to practice physical distancing.


  • Mandatory daily screening for staff and students.
    • Ensure all individuals entering the school are screened. There are different ways to screen individuals before entering a workplace or public setting. Consider the local epidemiology and community transmission of COVID-19 along with the risks for your setting in deciding what type of screening would be most appropriate.
    • The Government of Canada recommends that active screening (i.e., asking questions about symptoms) should be considered before or on arrival at school or child care. Active screening may involve a self-assessment (e.g., using a web-based tool, having an arriving person complete a questionnaire, or posing direct questions). If active screening is conducted in person, the screener should maintain physical distance of at least 2 metres or wear appropriate PPE.
    • Consider having parents sign off that screening self-assessment was performed every day and they are following public health guidance in sending their child/children to school.
    • Provide signage (PDF) at points of entry to remind people not to enter if they are ill. Similar messaging can be communicated on voicemails and websites.
    • Ensure that you have a process in place for handling individuals who screen positive.
  • Contact tracing – enhancing policies regarding reporting staff and student absenteeism to public health (to ensure early identification of clusters and outbreaks); keeping up to date records that can be made readily available to public health to facilitate contact tracing if needed.
    • Schools must keep daily records of anyone (students, parents/caregivers, staff and essential visitors) entering the school setting.

Hand hygiene

  • How can good hand hygiene be promoted?
    • Encourage older students and staff to carry their own hand sanitizer.
    • Provide multiple opportunities for handwashing throughout the school day (including paper towels for drying hands and lined disposal bins in prominent locations throughout school).
    • Teach appropriate respiratory and hand hygiene practices, before and during the school day (especially before and after eating, using the washroom and going outside).
    • Provide hand sanitizer where handwashing is not possible.
    • Supervise younger children while handwashing and hand sanitizing.
    • Video: Hand-washing heroes (Junior Kindergarten to Gr. 2)
    • Video: Wash your hands dance (Grade 3 and above)
    • Video: Wash your hands (Gr. 9-12)

School outbreak management

Management of individuals with suspected COVID-19

All schools should create protocols for the management of an individual who tests positive for COVID-19 (staff or student).

To consider:

  • A ‘close contact' is a person with close, prolonged contact with a probable or confirmed case while the individual was ill/infectious.
  • If records were requested, could you provide public health with the name of the individual, contact information, time of arrival/departure, other people the child interacted with, etc.?
  • What protocols are in place requiring individuals to stay home if they are sick (even with mild illness)?
  • Has a risk assessment been completed? (e.g., are cohorts small and controlled enough to mitigate the risk of needing to potentially close the entire school? are students wearing face coverings/masks on buses? are children only playing with their own cohort at recess?)
  • Do you have supportive policies to enable mildly ill or self-isolating staff/workers to stay home and/or work from home if necessary?
  • Do you know who needs to be contacted if staff/employees become ill at work? School principals are mandated to report infectious diseases under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to local public health units (PHUs). Public health then recommends closure, provides notice, or make other recommendations such as additional testing, self-isolation, and cleaning advice. 
  • If a teacher works in more than one setting and needs to self-isolate is there a replacement plan?
  • How will you communicate with the school community and parents/caregivers about positive COVID-19 cases?
  • Do you have processes in place for managing a COVID-19 positive test? If a student or employee tests COVID-19 positive, follow the direction from Hamilton Public Health Services or follow the Ontario testing guidance.
  • Do you have a designated space for an ill student to be cohorted in until they can be picked up from school? How will the student make their way home if they cannot be picked up by a guardian/parent?
  • Do you have a designated person to clean and disinfect areas that an individual who became sick at school touched?  (e.g., any items used by the individual and all surfaces within 2 metres of the ill person)
  • Any COVID-positive case in a household will require all members of the household to self-isolate for 14 days. How will you support students who cannot attend school in person because they are in self-isolation?

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and Hamilton Public Health Services will work closely with school boards to monitor and respond to reports of COVID-19 symptoms. For more information on management of suspected cases and outbreaks refer to monitoring and responding to reports of COVID-19 symptoms in the Ministry re-opening guide.

Cleaning and disinfection

As per Ministry guidelines and Public Health Ontario cleaning and disinfection for public settings recommendations:

  • General cleaning and disinfecting of premises is required daily and frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice a day.
  • More frequent cleaning and disinfection may be necessary, depending on use and soiling.
    • High touch areas include washrooms (e.g., toilet fixtures, faucets), eating areas (e.g., tables, sinks, countertops), doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, touch screens, push buttons, handrails, computers, photocopiers, sports equipment
  • Outdoor surfaces on playgrounds need routine cleaning with soap and water (but not disinfectant). This includes high touch surfaces made of plastic or metal, but cleaning of wooden surfaces is not recommended
  • Use of shared objects (e.g., gym or physical education equipment, art supplies, toys, games) should be limited when possible, or the objects should be cleaned between each use.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities, staff training where needed, and a maintenance schedule for cleaning and disinfection. Items/objects that cannot be effectively cleaned/disinfected daily or between classes should be temporarily removed.

List of disinfectants with evidence for use against COVID-19.

Consider creating these documents to support school re-opening:

  • organizational pandemic and/or business continuity plan
  • communication policy and procedure plan

Schools are exempt from Hamilton’s mandatory face covering/mask by-law. However, areas of the school with public access (e.g., the office/reception) need to follow masking requirements if members of the public (parents/caregivers/visitors) are present and physical distancing cannot be followed. Where physical distancing is able to be maintained, PPE is not necessary (although wearing a face covering/mask is a personal choice and students and staff should be supported if they make this choice).

For non-healthcare settings the use of PPE should be considered based on a risk assessment of the task, the individual and environment. All Government of Ontario guidance documents for sector-specific job duties should be followed. Public Health Ontario has developed a Technical Brief outlining minimum expectations for PPE for care of individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Key considerations:

  • N95 respirators are not indicated for use in the school setting (unless otherwise indicated as PPE for protection against workplace hazards)
  • Droplet and contact precautions are recommended for the care of someone suspected or confirmed with COVID-19.
  • Practice physical distancing of 2 metres (6 ft) as much as possible. In general, where physical distancing is not able to be practised, the use of masks or face coverings is recommended. 
  • Practice, and increase the frequency of, proper hand hygiene. Gloves are generally not needed beyond those used by staff as part of regular precautions for workplace hazards.


Promoting public health measures

  • Have you communicated information about COVID-19 and public health measures (e.g., mail to parents, newsletter, classroom instruction, posters at entrance of building and on walls).

Mental health and wellbeing

Schools should continue to support children and youth’s mental health and well-being.

  • School boards should implement a tiered approach for mental health supports that will capture all students and target intensive help to those who have been most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • School boards should collaborate with child and youth mental health agencies to support strong connections and make the best use of mental health resources and supports across the integrated system of care.

Mental health resources and supports:

Nutrition programs

  • Proper hand hygiene (i.e., washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer) must be practiced before and after eating.
  • School-supplied food should be delivered directly to the classroom. Students should eat lunches in their classrooms.
  • No self-serve or family-style meal service is permitted. There should be no common food items. During nutrition programs, food should be served in individual portions to each child by a designated staff member.

Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins University eSchool+ Initiative: Analysis of School Reopening Plans. Accessed from:
Ontario Ministry of Education (July 30, 2020. Updated Aug 2, 2020). Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools. Accessed from:
Sick Kids (July 29, 2020). Updated COVID-19 Recommendations for School Reopening. Accessed from:

Contact us for school-related COVID-19 questions:

Email: [email protected]
Call: 905-974-9848 Line 5 for COVID