A mix of skepticism and relief as London and area students return to in-person learning

Students and staff in Ontario schools and child-care settings will each get two rapid COVID-19 tests after schools return to in-person learning next week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday.

A return to in-person learning is welcome news for London school boards, but some experts worry if it’s too soon.

With in-person learning set to resume on Monday, both the Thames Valley and London District Catholic school boards are eager to see students return.

“We are relieved we have received our extra shipment of masks, so all of our staff are able to wear either the non-fitted N95 mask or a surgical mask, I am also relieved to hear high-quality three-ply cloth mask will be available for all students to wear,” said TVDSB director of education Mark Fisher.

LDCSB education director Vince Romeo told Global News it is important children are in schools and that the school board will do its best to make it a safe environment.

“We are thrilled to welcome our students and staff back in person for Monday. We are confident that the expanded access to testing, revisions to the screening tool, and additional masking options will enhance the already existing health and safety measures in place in our school buildings.”

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Ontario students, staff to each get 2 rapid COVID tests when schools restart in person

Students and staff in Ontario schools and child-care settings will each get two rapid COVID-19 tests after schools return to in-person learning.

“The key benefit of the provision of these tests is any person who tests positive or demonstrates symptoms will not come to school. I think that is really the key to moving forward successfully, is only staff and students who feel completely healthy should be coming to school,” Fisher said.

TVDSB says families will have the option to stay online once in-person learning resumes next week.

“We understand that families will need to make individual choices about the return to in-person learning for their child. As such, Thames Valley has been planning to support families during this time with short-term options,” a statement from the board said.

TVDSB is asking families to contact their schools for more information next week.

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Another key difference is schools will now report daily data on staff absences to local public health units instead of cases due to limited access to tests. Students and staff can only access PCR tests if they develop symptoms while at school.

Public health units will notify families if 30 per cent of a school — including staff and students — is absent, though officials noted that it will not be confirmed whether all absences are due to COVID-19.

“The government plan at this point appears to be that there is no plan to shut schools on either an individual basis or system basis until they meet the threshold,” said Thames Valley Elementary Teachers’ Federation president Craig Smith.

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Smith questions if the return is too soon.

“We are flying into this fairly blind, and I think there is a lot of hope from the ministry that this will go well, but we know from the numbers is they continue to increase,” Smith said.

“Our hospitals continue to fill, our ICUs are setting record numbers for patients in them — you know, the price of reopening at this stage remains to be seen.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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