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Near North Board outlines return to school policy

'When students return to in-person learning, new time-limited cohorting protocols will be implemented to limit direct and indirect contacts'

The Near North School Board has outlined its plan along with new protocols in a recent newsletter to parents. 

The memorandum comes in conjunction with the news that the Ministry of Education has been given the green light to return to in-person learning on Monday, January 17. 

The schools will be enhancing masking for both students and staff.  

"One of the safety measures that will be introduced by the Ministry of Education is the proactive provision of two high-quality three-ply cloth masks to students," the Board said.  

"The use of these masks is not being mandated at this time, but rather to encourage the use of a higher quality mask than some of the single or two-ply masks that students may have access to. 

"While these masks are washable and reusable, they have a limited number of recommended washes and as such, boards will be providing two of these three-ply masks to each student on an ongoing eight-week cycle. 

Upon our return to in-person learning, all Near North School Board schools will be sending two masks home with all students.

"We would encourage students to wear these masks daily, and for parents to ensure they are washed frequently," the Board continued.  

Meantime, the Ministry of Education will also be providing NNDSB education staff with the option of a non-fit-tested N95 mask.

"These masks meet the same National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) standards as fit-tested N95s but have not been, and are not required to be, fit-tested," the Board explained.  

"Staff will have the option to wear either medical/surgical masks or non-fit-tested N95 masks provided by the government. Staff in all NNDSB schools will have access to the non-fit-tested N95 masks beginning on Monday, Jan. 17."

The Board also outlined new screening procedures.  

"As per the Ontario government’s announcement on Dec. 30, 2021, testing and case and contact management are now focused on the highest risk settings, which excludes schools," the Board continued.  

The Board adds that isolation requirements for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms have also changed.  

"Rigorous screening and monitoring of symptoms by students, families, and staff are critical to limiting transmission and keeping schools safer and open for in-person learning," the Board said.  

"As an additional layer of protection for students and staff, effective January 2022, all Ontario schools are required to reinstate daily on-site confirmation of screening for all students and staff until further notice. Teachers will confirm with students each morning that they have completed their screening before attending school.

"A more sensitive COVID-19 symptom list is being reinstated for daily active screening of all students and staff in schools and childcare. Anyone who has symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or is a confirmed positive case must self-isolate, regardless of vaccination status."

The updated School Screening tool can be accessed here.

Given recent changes to case and contact management by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education has suspended reporting of cases in schools.

"Further to this direction, NNDSB is no longer reporting COVID-19 active and resolved cases or closed classrooms on its website," the Board said.  

"The table on this page was last updated on Dec. 29, 2021, the last date that we received data from North Bay Parry Sound Health Unit."

The Board adds that public health units will no longer be dismissing cohorts.

Given the widespread transmission and inability to test all symptomatic individuals, schools will not be routinely notifying students/pupils in classes with a positive case, or if a child/student or staff is absent due to symptoms associated with COVID-19.

More information on COVID-19 symptoms and guidelines for isolation can be found on the health unit’s website.

The Board says there will be enhanced cohorting and cleaning as part of the return-to-school plan.

"When students return to in-person learning, new time-limited cohorting protocols will be implemented to limit direct and indirect contacts," the Board noted.  

"The Ontario government stated this will include the pausing of high-contact extra-curricular sports and stricter lunch cohort requirements at all schools.

"NNDSB’s enhanced cleaning protocol will continue. Further details and additional measures may be implemented as NNDSB consults its local health unit to ensure schools are as safe as possible. Any developments will be shared with families."

The NNDSB is expecting to receive rapid antigen test kits from the government for distribution to students and staff.

"As stated by Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, two rapid antigen test kits would be provided to all staff and elementary students, while secondary students will receive them on an as-needed basis, if symptomatic at school," the Board continued. 

NNDSB follows the direction of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the public health unit when devising COVID-19 plans. Please monitor the board’s website for the latest information.  

Chris Dawson

About the Author: Chris Dawson

Chris Dawson has been with since 2004. He has provided up-to-the-minute sports coverage and has become a key member of the BayToday news team.
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