There will be no in-person extracurriculars or indoor assemblies at Ottawa's largest school board this fall, and elementary students will stick to their cohorts when classes resume next month.
In a note sent to parents Thursday evening, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) director of education Camille Williams-Taylor explained some of the COVID-19 rules that will be in place when classes resume Sept. 9.
According to the note, many of the English public school board's rules are more cautious than the latest guidance from the province, last updated Aug. 13.
Elementary students will stay with their cohorts all day, breaks included. The provincial guidance suggests cohorts can mix during breaks such as recess and lunch, as long as children from the different groups keep their distance.
Most secondary students will take four courses each semester, with two subjects per week. Lunch rules will vary by school.
According to the board, the high vaccination rate among secondary students influenced its decisions. Students who have opted to learn remotely will have a similar schedule to last year.
While Ontario allows in-person extracurricular activities, including sports, as long as certain precautions are taken, the OCDSB will not. Any extracurriculars this fall will be virtual.
OCDSB assemblies will be held outdoors or virtually, even though the province allows indoor assemblies as long as limits on gathering are observed.
Another change this fall: field trips will only take place if they're within walking distance. Under provincial rules, trips involving school buses are allowed as long as the seat behind the driver remains empty.
The board's special meeting to talk about stricter mask and vaccination rules, which was postponed earlier this week, has been rescheduled to 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The board is following other provincial guidance around daily self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms and mandatory masks for all but kindergarten students. The possibility of expanding screening and masking to kindergartners is on Tuesday's agenda.
Williams-Taylor said the board will release more information on ventilation. Ottawa Public Health will explain what happens if there's a positive test in a school, and principals will make other decisions about their individual schools.
WATCH | Ottawa's largest school board says no to in-person sports and clubs, leaving some parents frustrated
The Ottawa Catholic School Board, Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario and Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l'Est ontarien have also given back-to-school updates this week.
Parents 'frustrated' by virtual extracurriculars
For parent Sally Bidal, the board's decision to keep extracurriculars virtual when provincial public health guidance says some activities can go ahead in-person is frustrating.
"I would ... like for them to consider everything that children have given up. And the fact that right now ... public health is allowing these activities to go forward," Bidal said.
Bidal said her kids have been following the public health regulations with the idea that doing so will allow them to return to in-person activities when things open up.
I am getting very frustrated and tired of everybody doing their part and the freedoms coming ... for adults more than for children. - Sally Bidal
While there are other extracurricular programs open in Ottawa, Bidal says she prefers school programs because there would be less risk. Her children would interact with the same group of kids, she said, instead of a wider community.
"As a parent, I am getting very frustrated and tired of everybody doing their part and the freedoms coming ... for adults more than for children," Bidal said.
"I don't need to go to a restaurant. I don't need to go to a bar. I have lived that part of my life ... my kids, their childhood continues to be impacted."
Caroline Robbins, another parent with kids at OCDSB schools, agrees with Bidal that when it comes to her children's health, COVID-19 risk is only one factor to consider.
"We want both [children], especially at 10 years old and 13 years old, to expand who they're interacting with, how they're interacting. It helps their social development very much," Robbins said.
OCDSB chair Lynn Scott said the board knows how important sports and extracurriculars are — and will definitely have them this year — but is still considering how best to roll them out.
"We don't usually begin on day one [with] the extracurriculars all operating. We like to get our kids settled into school before we start those things up," Scott said.