Ottawa Catholic board students return to school

OTTAWA — It’s back to the classroom Tuesday for more than 42,000 students in the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

For students and teachers, it will be their first time in the classroom since Ontario closed schools to in-person learning in April.

But with no provincial requirement that staff be vaccinated against COVID-19, parents can’t be 100 per cent sure that the teacher at the front of the class has their shots.

The OCSB board of trustees has directed its senior officials to develop a mandatory vaccination policy for all staff. But for now, school staff must follow the ministry directive: they must either provide proof of complete vaccination against COVID-19, give a documented medical reason for not being vaccinated, or undergo regular testing and participate in a vaccination education program.

Education minister Stephen Lecce defended the province’s approach to vaccinations Tuesday morning, saying on CTV Morning Live that school boards are free to go above and beyond the provincial protocol.

“As the evidence evolves, the situation evolves with Delta, we’ll be ready to act,” he said. “The plan we announced going back a few weeks ago is aligned with the best expert advice.”

Lecce said Tuesday that unvaccinated staff will be required to undergo testing twice a week.

School boards in Ontario will post data on their website by Sept. 15 showing the percentage of staff who have not been fully vaccinated.

School upgrades

The OCSB says its schools are safe, and its approach to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 has worked.

Students and teachers will notice some difference this year. Upgrades to schools include more than 1,000 portable HEPA air filter units, UV ceiling lights in 200 classrooms and unit ventilators in 220 portables.

The board says it has spent $26 million in overall COVID-19 mitigation practices in schools, with $15 million of that going toward improved ventilation.

The board has posted a list of each school’s HVAC status on its website.

Much like last year, people can also expect to see hand sanitizer stations at entrance to classrooms, directional signage on floors, plastic guards and enhanced cleaning.

Masks are mandatory for all staff and students from kindergarten to Grade 12. Field trips and large indoor assemblies are on hold to start the school year.

All students and staff attending school must complete a daily screening tool.

There are also new rules this year for student vaccinations, for those born in 2009 or earlier who are eligible.

Fully vaccinated students who are exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 do not have to self-isolate as long as they don’t have symptoms.

But students who aren’t vaccinated and are exposed to a positive case will be required to isolate for 10 days. Students under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

The city’s largest school board—the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board—has its first day this Thursday.

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