School Planning - COVID-19
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.
Many of the public health measures that were in place during the 2020-21 school year, continue to be required for the 2021-22 year. Ministry of Education changes for this school year include:
- Students are no longer required to wear masks outdoors
- High-contact sports are permitted outdoors
- Extra-curricular and inter-school sport activities are permitted with some modifications
- Shared materials outdoors are permitted with appropriate hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette
- Members of different cohorts can interact outside with distancing encouraged or inside with distancing and masking
- Students may use common spaces (e.g. cafeterias, libraries)
- Secondary students may have no more than 2 courses at a time to allow for more restrictive measures if required
- Additional requirements supporting ventilation
The information below 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
All staff, students and visitors must self-screen every day before attending school. Students who are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as identified in the screening tool, must not attend school and should follow the guidance provided in the screening tool, which may include seeking appropriate medical attention as required, and/or getting tested for COVID-19. The Ministry may direct schools to confirm self-screening, such as during a period of potential higher transmission (e.g., after a holiday period).
School outbreak guidance
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 vaccination status, 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 tag or sports drills.
Adjusting the school environment
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 (ventilation)
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).
- For schools with full mechanical ventilation (including parts of schools such as additions), school boards are expected to:
- Have all ventilation systems inspected and in good working order before the start of the school year
- Use the highest-grade filters possible, preferably MERV 13 filters
- Undertake frequent filter changes through the year
- Operate ventilation systems 2 hours or more before and after school occupancy
- Calibrate HVAC systems for maximum air flow and increased fresh air intake
For schools or parts of schools without mechanical ventilation, school boards must place standalone high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units in all classrooms and learning environments. Units must be sized for the classroom or learning environment that is being used. In larger classrooms and learning environments, more than one HEPA unit may be required.
- 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).
Adjusting processes - administrative measures
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
- School vehicles can operate at full capacity if necessary.
- Vehicles for elementary students should reduce capacity where possible.
- The seat directly behind the driver in school buses should remain empty to maintain physical distancing between the driver and students when possible.
- Buses used for transporting students should be cleaned and disinfected at least twice daily 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:
- Seating students from the same household or classroom cohort together.
- Encouraging active forms of travel (e.g. walking and cycling) where possible.
- Increasing physical distance between students when operating bus at less than full capacity.
- 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.
- Face coverings are mandatory for students in Grades 1 to 12 on school vehicles. Kindergarten students are encouraged to wear masks.
- Mandatory daily screening for staff and students. Schools should provide the screening tool to staff and students to complete before they arrive at 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.
- Ensure there is a process in place to validate self-screening results, if directed by the Ministry (e.g., after school holidays).
- 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 and respiratory etiquette
- How can good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette 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 entering the school, before and after eating, and using the washroom).
- 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
Note: updates will be posted as they are received
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).
- 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 unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or symptomatic members of the household to self-isolate for 10 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, focus should be on regular hand hygiene to reduce the risk of infection related to high touch surfaces:
- 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
- Use of shared objects (e.g., gym or physical education equipment, art supplies, toys, games) is permitted. The focus should be on regular hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette to reduce the risk of infection. Shared objects should be regularly cleaned/disinfected when possible.
- 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.
Consider creating these documents to support school re-opening:
- organizational pandemic and/or business continuity plan
- communication policy and procedure plan
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Schools are required to follow rules laid out in the Reopening Ontario Act, 2020 for face coverings and masks. Face coverings/masks are required in indoor public spaces and workplaces, including schools.
- Visitors are required to wear a medical mask upon entry to a school.
- Students in Grades 1 to 12 are required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes, as well as on school vehicles. Students in Kindergarten are to be encouraged but not required to wear masks. Both HWDSB and HWCDSB are requiring that JK and SK students wear masks in school.
- In some instances, school boards may have more stringent requirements for face covering/mask wearing. Please refer to your school board policies to ensure compliance.
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.
- 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).
Have you provided information to staff and students about COVID-19 vaccination and where they can access a vaccine?
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:
- HWCDSB student mental health and well-being
- HWDSB mental health supports during COVID-19
- SickKids Hospital resources for talking to your child about COVID-19, coping, parenting & mental health
- Supports and tools for taking care of your family’s mental health
- Proper hand hygiene (i.e., washing hands with soap and water or using hand sanitizer) must be practiced before and after eating.
- Students may eat together outdoors without distancing and indoors with a minimum distance of 2 metres between cohorts and as much distancing as possible within a cohort.
- Consider staggering lunch periods or eating outdoors to reduce the number of students and cohorts eating lunch in proximity to each other.
- Capacity limits for cafeterias should be based on two metres of physical distance between cohorts and as much distancing as possible within cohorts.
- Use of shared microwaves/kitchen space is permitted.
- Nutrition/third party food programs may operate and should follow standard food handling and safety practices.
Resources for schools
- COVID-19 Preparedness and Prevention in Elementary and Secondary (K-12) Schools Checklist - English | French
- Ministry of Education Health, Safety and Operational Guidance for schools - English | French
- Flow chart for Symptomatic Children at Home - English | French
- Flow chart for Symptomatic Children at School/Child care - English | French
- Assessing staff contacts in schools, daycares and camp settings
- Fully vaccinated school/childcare close contact fact sheet
- Public Health Ontario Cold Weather Tips for Schools - English | French
- City of Hamilton Workplaces and Public Places
- Risk mitigation tool - English | French
- Poster: Bottle Filling Station Guidelines (PDF)
Resources for students
- Hamilton Health Sciences videos: masks, anxiety about school return, COVID-19 tests for children
- Government of Canada activities for children and information for parents - English | French
- Government of Canada information for youth & young adults - English | French
- Video: Physical distancing (for kids)
- Video: How to wear a face covering/mask
- 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)
Contact us for school-related COVID-19 questions:
Email: [email protected]
Call: 905-974-9848 Line 5 for COVID
- Date modified: