Students in Windsor-Essex are heading back to the classroom Monday

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Students in Windsor-Essex are allowed to return to the classroom as of Monday.

Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Wednesday that the region will join 12 other health units in resuming in-person classes next week. Chatham Kent and Sarnia-Lambton school boards will also welcome students back.

Students in only three regions — Peel, York and Toronto — will remain at home for an extra week and return on Feb. 16, the day after Family Day.

But students will head back with increased health and safety measures, according to the province and Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB).

All students from Grades 1 to 12 will be required to wear masks in the classroom, hallways and when outside, unless they are at a physical distance of two metres from others, the public board said in a news release. Students taking the bus must also wear masks while on board.

The public board said it is also encouraging students in junior and senior kindergarten to wear masks. It added that in addition to the masking, secondary students and staff have to complete a daily COVID-19 assessment on its website before attending school each day.

As for the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB), a statement to families said that starting next week students will return to the learning model they were enrolled in before schools closed in December.

Parents who do not want their children to return to in-person learning are to contact the principal of their school, the board said.

Starting Feb. 16, the board said elementary teachers will use webcams to support students who aren't returning to the classroom.

"This temporary hybrid model will be an option for those students who are currently learning in-person," the board said, adding that more details will be released soon.

Meanwhile, secondary students in cohorts A and B, who began a quad 3 schedule on Wednesday, will continue to follow that for the rest of the year, according to WECDSB.

In addition to this, the dates for parents to declare a learning model switch have now been pushed to March. For elementary schools the declaration forms will open on March 22 and close March 26. All elementary students will begin their final learning model on April 12.

Sanjay Maru/CBC
Sanjay Maru/CBC

"Realizing that these are very challenging times and parents may not be comfortable making a decision on the learning modality for their child for the rest of the year, we are trying to defer that final decision as long as we can," the board said.

There was no date to swtich learning models provided for secondary students.

In Windsor-Essex, all students have been learning remotely since Dec. 14. The region's medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed closed schools a week prior to the holiday break as COVID-19 cases in the region were ramping up.

On Tuesday, Ahmed said he supports a return to classes, if decided by the province, as the region's case count has been declining and cases in school-aged children are down.

In addition to the measures provided by the GECDSB, which were supported by the province, the government has also introduced the following measures:

  • Provincewide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff.

  • Providing 3.5 million high quality cloth masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1 to 12 students.

  • Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school.

  • Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.