English-language school boards outline fall plans amidst COVID-19

·3 min read

From hand sanitizer in every classroom to teachers in personal protective equipment, Ottawa's two biggest school boards are giving parents a peek at what September's return to the classroom will look like.

Both the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) have outlined the changes being made this fall to keep students and staff protected.

With elementary and middle school students returning to class full-time, provincial regulations require students in Grades 4 and above to wear masks, but both English-language boards are also encouraging parents to outfit younger children with reusable masks.

They'll also have hand sanitizer in each classroom and at every school entrance, and students will be required to use it when they go in and out.

School hallways will also have directional signs and markers to keep students distanced from one another, and neither parents nor volunteers will be allowed inside the building.

Dozens of students in elementary classes

Ballooning class sizes have been a concern for parents over the years, but especially ahead of September's return, given the risk of COVID-19 spreading among students.

On Monday, the OCDSB announced its maximum class sizes:

  • For kindergarten: 29 students.

  • For Grades 1 to 3: 23 students.

  • No maximum for Grades 4 to 6, but typically below 30.

  • No maximum for Grades 7 to 8, but typically below 30.

Meanwhile, the OCSB said it plans to have an average of 26 kids in a kindergarten class, up to 23 students in a class for Grades 1 to 3, and an average of 24.5 students in Grades 4 to 8.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Elementary students in both boards will have to stay with their own classrooms all day, including during lunch, recess and when they get physical education.

Only teachers will rotate between the classrooms.

"Ottawa Public Health has reviewed all of our plans to look at how we will balance the risks of returning to school with the potential harm of not having developmentally appropriate interactions with students," said Thomas D'Amico, the OCSB's director of education, in a video released Monday.

While people are expected to physically distance by staying two metres apart, D'Amico acknowledged that one metre is "the reality in most of our classrooms."

The OCDSB also released its own video Monday.

Remote learning deadline coming up

Both boards acknowledge high schools are more complicated, given their size and the number of students.

Students won't be going back to class five days a week, and instead of the typical two-semester academic year, students will have four semesters, each of which will cover two courses.

The OCDSB said students in its high school classes will be split into two groups, each with about 15 students. They'll either attend class two or three days a week, alternating back and forth from week to week, and will learn from home on the days they're not in the classroom.

Parents can decide to keep their kids at home and learning remotely for the upcoming year, but they have to make the choice by Friday.

Both boards said parents may be able to change their minds, but likely not until at least halfway through the fall.