86% of TDSB students want to return for in-person learning amid stricter COVID-19 protocols

WATCH ABOVE: A majority of Toronto public school students will be heading back to class in September. As Caryn Lieberman reports, there will be strict safety measures in place.

The Toronto District School Board has laid out additional, stricter COVID-19 protocols for students and staff returning to school than what the province issued two weeks ago.

In the document — and with 86 per cent of students opting for in-person learning starting this academic year — the TDSB outlined how its requirements for staff and students differ from the ministry of education’s guidance in certain settings.

For example, for recess and breaks outdoors, the ministry said students do not need to stay within their cohorts but physical distancing must be maintained. However, the TDSB amended that guideline for elementary students who must continue to take breaks within their cohorts with physical distancing.

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When it comes to school assemblies, the ministry said they are allowed and students and staff should follow relevant provincial requirements. The TDSB said it will continue with virtual assemblies instead of indoor gatherings, but will also use outdoor assemblies, weather permitting, with distancing and cohorts.

The minister said music and singing is permitted in areas with proper ventilation, two metres of distancing and masking is encouraged for singing where distancing can’t be maintained, the ministry said. Wind instruments indoors were also permitted if distancing was met. Outdoor singing is encouraged, it added.

But the TDSB said that for vocal singing, masking is required while indoors and no masks for outdoors. Both scenarios require distancing and cohorts. For specific instruments, the TDSB said protocols are still being developed to address the use of musical instruments during the pandemic.

The TDSB said elementary students will continue to eat in classrooms or other spaces where there’s physical distancing. For secondary students, the TDSB said lunch protocols are still being developed depending on school size and layout.

Meanwhile, the ministry said cafeteria use would be permitted with capacity and distancing limits. Outdoor eating was encouraged where possible and secondary students were permitted to eat off-campus.

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When it comes to ventilation and HEPA filters, the TDSB said a HEPA filter will be in every occupied classroom, portable, wellness room, and child care room regardless if the school had a mechanical ventilation system or not, providing for some schools two types of ventilation.

The ministry had announced in early August more money for additional HEPA filters for schools that did not have a proper mechanical ventilation system.

The TDSB said 86 per cent of students from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 want to return to in-person learning and 14 per cent have requested virtual learning, based on an online survey.

Percentage of TDSB students, by grade, who want to return to in-person learning or do virtual learning.

Percentage of TDSB students, by grade, who want to return to in-person learning or do virtual learning.

Toronto District School Board

Ontario has not mandated mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for all staff or eligible students. The province has required people in high-risk settings who do not want to get vaccinated to undergo regular antigen (rapid) testing. Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to implement a similar vaccination policy, officials said.

The first day of classes for the TDSB students is on Sept. 9.

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