As many teachers and students logged off from class Friday, local school boards are scrambling to get updated information about what the return to in-person learning may look like Monday as omicron cases continue to surge across the province.
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Education announced that all schools in Ontario will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 17.
In a letter sent by the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) to parents Thursday evening, officials say they are continuing to work closely with and take our direction from the authorities at both the local health unit and the ministry to ensure the updated health and safety measures announced by Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, are implemented to support the return to in-person learning.
A similar letter was set to be sent by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board on Friday afternoon outlining what to expect as schools reopen.
Included in the public board's letter was information regarding the updated Daily COVID-19 self-screening tool, and reminding families to ensure all children complete and pass the COVID-19 self-screening tool daily, prior to going school.
The daily screening has been updated and includes a more sensitive COVID-19 symptom list as well as the requirement for anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate and stay home, regardless of vaccination status.
Parents can also expect each student to be sent home with two rapid antigen tests to be used when individuals are symptomatic.
With the return to in-person learning, the school boards are anticipating higher-than-normal levels of staff absences, in order for them to comply with the updated screening and isolation guidelines.
“Although we are making every effort to mitigate the impact on schools and are putting supports in place, there could be circumstances where staff absenteeism results in the need for temporary school closures,” SCDSB officials said in the letter to parents.
Should a school be required to close due to being short staffed, Pauline Stevenson, spokesperson for the local Catholic board, told BarrieToday it will make every effort to make the call the evening before whenever possible.
“We will communicate with our families through an email and automated voice call out. We are also going to issue a media alert, just like we would if it was a school closure for an inclement weather day or for another reason. We will also post on our website," she said.
Stevenson noted, however, it is possible a decision would be made as late as 6:30 a.m. the morning of, adding the same process for notification would be used.
“We are asking our families to have emergency child-care provisions in place in case that has to happen,” she said.
If a school is closed, students and educators would then move to synchronous virtual learning for staff who are not ill.
“Some classes might have to do asynchronous learning,” Stevenson said.
For students that take the bus, both boards have been made aware of the potential for delays or bus route cancellations due to driver absenteeism.
Any delays or route cancellations will be posted on the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium (SCTSC) will post delays and bus route cancellations on its website.
Parents are encouraged to check the SCSTC website regularly or sign up to receive email notifications by clicking here.