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Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools

Find out what will happen if there is a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at a school.

This document is intended to support school boards and school authorities in the safe reopening and operation of schools for the 2020-2021 school year. This document also applies to child care centres and before and after school programs that operate within schools.

In the event of a discrepancy between this guidance and a directive of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the directive prevails.

The Ministry of Education is requesting that school boards work in collaboration with local public health units (PHUs) and other local health partners to ensure that schools can reopen and operate safely. The document COVID-19 Guidance: School Outbreak Management provides the direction for public health on the management of COVID-19 cases, contacts and outbreaks in schools and should be used in conjunction with the Public Health guidance document on the management of school outbreaks.

While the focus of this guidance document is on the new health, safety and operational measures that are required in order to safely reopen and operate schools, please note that every effort should continue to be made to uphold the welcoming and caring environment that schools provide for children and families.

Additional information is available on the provincial COVID-19 website, including resources to help stop the spread, sector-specific resources, including helpful posters, mental health resources and other information. If you have further questions or require clarification, please contact your Ministry of Education Regional Office.

The Ministry of Education originally published this guidance in August 2020 and updated it in November 2020. Key updates:

  • That local PHUs have a responsibility in determining when an individual or cohorts are dismissed, when schools are closed and when individuals or cohorts can return to school. However, in some instances, local PHUs may give discretion to principals to dismiss individuals or cohorts for self-isolation while awaiting results of the local public health investigation.

  • Added guidance for boards on reporting COVID-19 absences in schools using the online reporting tool and outlining that boards need to report daily. Additional clarity is also provided stating that boards must report suspected cases to the local public health unit to support case management and contact tracing.

  • Revised guidance around screening practices to clarify that screening prior to arrival at the school is necessary, and to encourage the use of the provincial screening tool.

  • Added guidance on self-isolation periods to align with the Ministry of Health guidance on testing and clearance and updated guidance in the COVID-19 school and child care screening tool.

  • Updated language to clarify that if a child develops symptoms and their self-screening indicates they should stay home but their siblings do not have symptoms, their siblings do not need to isolate until the child with symptoms tests positive for COVID-19.

  • Addition of guidance around the continuity of learning and expectations that boards are prepared to pivot to remote learning when needed. This includes clarifying that boards are to support the transition to remote learning for siblings of students who have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

  • Revised language around testing, stating that individuals should only consult a health care provider as needed. The previous language indicated individuals should seek testing even if showing mild symptoms.

  • Clarified that medical notes and proof of a negative test are not required for an individual to return to school.

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