Schools and COVID-19
With schools reopening their doors in a pandemic, the focus is on safety for students and staff. Public Health Sudbury & Districts is working actively with school boards in our service area to ensure they have the Public Health supports they need for a healthy and successful return to school.
To continue to keep students, staff, and communities safe, the following new health and safety measures are in place for in-person learning:
- masking for Grades 1-3 and requirements for mask-wearing outdoors
- enhanced screening protocols
- expanded targeted testing
All staff, students and visitors must self-screen every day before attending school. The questions in the COVID-19 school screening tool (Government of Ontario) can help you decide if you should or should not go to school today. As of February 19, 2021, staff, students and children with any new or worsening symptoms of COVID-19, even those with only one symptom, must stay home until they receive a negative test result, an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional, or it has been 10 days since their symptom onset and they are feeling better.
Watch this animated video for information about symptoms and tips on COVID-19 screening. Scroll down to the self-screening and illness section for answers to specific questions.
Return to school
- Letter to parents and families (PDF, 389 KB) from the Medical Officer of Health and Directors of Education about updated symptom screening tool and isolation requirements, February 22, 2021.
- Letter to parents and families (PDF, 238 KB) from the Medical Officer of Health and Directors of Education to express support for the essential priority of safe in-person learning as stated in the letter from the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health (PDF, 201 KB), February 3, 2021.
- Letter to parents and families (PDF, 218 KB) from the Medical Officer of Health and Directors of Education reminding families to be COVID-safe during the winter break, December 9, 2020.
- Letter to parents and families (PDF, 108 KB) from the Medical Officer of Health and Directors of Education to reaffirm our commitment to COVID-safe schools, November 20, 2020.
- Public Health reporting practices for confirmed cases and outbreaks of COVID-19 in school settings (September 11, 2020).
- Public Health Sudbury & Districts—all hands on deck to support a COVID-safe return to school (September 4, 2020).
- Top 10 COVID-19 Basic Rules for Safe Schools. Directors of Education and Medical Officers of Health from across Northern Ontario stand united to deliver on COVID-safe schools (September 2, 2020).
- Statement from the Medical Officer of Health on the fall 2020 return to school (August 14, 2020).
Outbreaks in schools
Public Health will post information about outbreaks of COVID-19 in schools, when available.
In this section you will find questions and answers on the following :
- In-person learning and remote learning
- Self-screening and Illness
- Eating and Drinking
- Mental Health and Well-being
- Holiday celebrations
In-person learning and remote learning
Should I send my child to school in-person?
When it comes to deciding whether you will be sending your child to school this fall or not, there are many things to consider. Knowing what questions to ask can help you make the right decision for you and your family.
The following questions may be helpful as you think about whether your personal circumstances are best suited for in person or distance learning. Parents will have the opportunity at different points throughout the school year to change learning modes for their children (switching from either in-person to distance, or vice-versa):
- Do you, your children, or anyone in your social circle have a health condition?
- Do you have access to child care, if required?
- Does your child require in-class learning with a professional?
- Could you and your child manage online instruction at home?
- How can you best balance the physical with the social and emotional health of your child?
- What are the important job and economic circumstances in your home that might impact your decision? Things can change quickly with COVID-19. Have a back-up plan so you can deal with unexpected changes caused by COVID-19 in your school, like needing to say home and being prepared to shift from in school learning to distance learning, or a combination of both.
Can I change my mind about sending my child to school?
Each board has set dates throughout the year in which students can switch between distance learning and in person learning. Please communicate with your child’s school or review your board’s re-opening plan for more information.
What can I expect from remote learning?
Schools will communicate expectations with parents. To ensure consistency across schools and school boards, the Ministry of Education released Policy/Program Memorandum No. 164: Requirements for Remote Learning. Schools will need to ensure compliance with this policy. Parents will receive more information from their schools regarding expectations and timetables.
Should I be concerned about the amount of screen time required for my child to take part in remote learning?
While the guidelines for remote learning may seem to include a large amount of screen time, the Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth refer to out-of-school time and do not include time spent doing schoolwork. All parents are encouraged to establish daily screen-free times and encourage physical activities and participation in other hobbies.
Learn more about screen time for children at : Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines
Self-screening and illness
How often during the week do I need to screen my child for symptoms of COVID-19?
You must screen your child for symptoms at home daily before sending them to school. We recommend that you use the COVID-19 school and child care screening tool.
This screening tool contains sets of questions about symptoms and other potential reasons for self-isolation. It will help you make decisions about whether your child(ren) should attend school or child care, if they need to stay home, isolate, and if needed, consult a health care provider.
You should also refer to your school board’s website for their specific screening practices, as well as any additional recommendations and protocols.
What happens if my child shows symptoms of COVID-19 at school?
If your child shows symptoms of COVID-19 at school, they will be isolated in a supervised area and you will be called to pick them up. It’s essential to make sure your contact information is up-to-date with your school, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your child(ren). Your child must be brought home to self-isolate immediately.
You are then asked complete the online COVID-19 school and child care screening tool for further instructions on isolation, seeking medical advice, return to school or child care, and when to call public health.
This document “What to do: if a student is ill during school hours” provides a step-by-step road map for principals, teachers and the broader school community on the steps schools should take if a student is ill during school hours.
If only one of my children has symptoms, do they all have to stay home from school?
In response to the evolving situation related to COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC), provincial guidance has been updated. Currently all household contacts (including asymptomatic household contacts) of symptomatic individuals are required to isolate until the symptomatic individual receives a negative COVID-19 test result or an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional. Therefore, all household members such as siblings and parents/guardians are required to stay home from school and work for this time period. If the symptomatic child is not tested for COVID-19, all household contacts are required to isolate for 14 days from their last contact with that child.
The symptomatic child must self-isolate away from other household members. Note that if the sick child is young and cannot isolate apart from other household members, a parent or caregiver must also isolate with the child away from other household members.
It is very important to complete daily screening for each child attending school. It is also recommended that you check school policies which may provide you with additional direction about when to keep your children home.
If my child has symptoms and needs to be tested, who else in my household needs to be tested?
If your child is the only member of your household who has symptoms, they are the only one who needs to be tested at that time. All other household members, even if asymptomatic, are required to stay home from school and work until the child receives a negative COVID-19 test result or an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional. They must self-isolate at home away from the other members of the household. Note that if the sick child is young and cannot isolate apart from other household members, a parent or caregiver must also isolate with the child away from other household members.
If your child’s test result is positive, public health will contact you and give you further direction about isolation and testing for the other members of the household.
If my child has symptoms, when can they go back to school?
If your child has any symptoms, you should talk with a doctor/health care provider to get advice or an assessment or call your local assessment centre to book a COVID-19 test.
If testing is recommended by your health care provider and/or the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Children in School and Child care and you decide to NOT have your child tested, your child must stay home and self-isolate for 10 days from when their symptoms started. In addition, all asymptomatic household contacts of your child are required to isolate as well. Household members need to isolate away from the child for 14 days from the last contact with the symptomatic child. The symptomatic child should isolate away from other household members. If the sick child is young and cannot isolate apart from other household members, a parent or caregiver must also isolate with the child away from other household members. The child may return to school/daycare after 10 full days since the symptoms started as long as they do not have a fever and their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (48 hours if their symptoms were vomiting/diarrhea). If your child cannot isolate apart from your household contacts (e.g. they are too young) and needs help, the caregiver must also isolate with child and away from other household members.
If your child tests positive for COVID-19, Public Health Sudbury and Districts will receive the results directly from the lab and will contact you to provide further direction and guidance.
If your child tests negative for COVID-19 or if testing is not recommended and/or an alternative diagnosis is provided, household contacts can end their isolation and your child may return to school/daycare if they meet the following criteria:
- They do not have a fever (without using medication); AND
- Their symptoms have been improving for at least 24 hours (or at least 48 hours if their symptoms were vomiting/diarrhea); AND
- They were not in close contact with someone who currently has COVID-19.
Please note that mild symptoms known to persist in young children (e.g. runny nose or mild cough that may persist following infections) may be ongoing at time of return to school/child care if other symptoms are resolved.
A doctor’s note or proof of a negative test is not required for your child to be able to return to school/child care.
What happens if someone in my child’s school tests positive for COVID-19?
If someone in a school setting tests positive for COVID-19 (a confirmed “case”), Public Health will work quickly and closely with the school to determine the next steps. In general, if the case is a student, their class will be dismissed along with any other close contacts of the case. Public Health will support the school to ensure everyone has the information they need for their specific circumstances. This includes sharing specific instructions about testing and isolation, if required.
This document “What happens when: A positive COVID-19 case is identified in a school community” provides a step-by-step road map for principals, teachers, and the broader school community on the steps that are taken if a school student, staff or visitor tests positive for COVID-19. It also includes information regarding the declaration of an outbreak.
For more information, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/operational-guidance-covid-19-management-schools (Ontario Government).
If someone in my child’s school tests positive for COVID-19 do I need to get my child tested?
In general, if someone from a school tests positive for COVID-19 and your child is not in the same classroom or otherwise considered a close contact, they do not need to get tested or be kept home from school. Public Health Sudbury & Districts will support the school to inform parents or guardians if their child is considered a close contact of the case. This includes sharing specific instructions about testing and isolation, if required. During this time, parents should continue to use the COVID-19 Screening Tool for Children in School and Child Care to monitor their child for symptoms. For more information, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/operational-guidance-covid-19-management-schools (Ontario Government).
What happens when there is an outbreak in a school?
In general, an outbreak will be declared by Public Health if there are two or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a student, staff, or visitor in a 14-day period and if these cases are linked. An outbreak could be declared for a portion of the school (for example, individual classrooms) or for the entire school and could result in specific classrooms being dismissed or the entire school closing. If an outbreak is declared by Public Health Sudbury & Districts, the school will communicate this with parents or guardians immediately. Information must also be posted on school board or school websites. Public Health will support the school to communicate the required next steps for all affected students, such as staying home on self-isolation and the need for testing.
Public Health will work with the school to continue to monitor the situation and will continue to assess the outbreak measures in place and the risk to the school community. Additional outbreak measures may be implemented or removed accordingly (E.g., school closure, dismissing select cohorts for the duration of the outbreak). In general, outbreaks are declared over when there have been at least 14 days since the last positive case and no individuals with symptoms are awaiting testing. For more information, visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/operational-guidance-covid-19-management-schools (Ontario Government).
What does it mean for other family members if my child has to stay home on isolation because their classroom was dismissed, or the school has an outbreak?
In these circumstances, your child may be asymptomatic but have been exposed to COVID-19 and is expected to remain at home and follow self-isolation directions (https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/ncov/factsheet-covid-19-how-to-self-isolate.pdf?la=en (Public Health Ontario) usually for 14 days. If the child is young and cannot isolate apart from household contacts, a parent or caregiver will also need to isolate with the child away from other members of household. For the duration of the child’s isolation period, which will be communicated by public health, everyone else in the household is required to stay home except for essential reasons. Essential reasons include attending work/school/childcare and essential errands such as groceries, attending medical appointments, or picking up prescriptions.
If your child develops symptoms of COVID-19, everyone in your household is required to self-isolate and stay home until your child receives a negative test result or is provided with an alternate diagnosis by a health care provider. If your child is not tested, all members of your household are required to self-isolate for 14 days from their last exposure to the symptomatic child. If your child develops symptoms, please call Public Health for additional direction.
Wearing Masks in schools
Face coverings, specifically non-medical masks, are one way to help keep your kids and others safe from COVID-19 at school.
Provincial direction states that non-medical masks are mandatory for students in grades 4 to 12. We strongly encourage that all students from kindergarten to grade 3 also wear a mask in indoor spaces and when physical distancing cannot be maintained unless exemptions apply.
Learn more about how to properly wear a mask or face covering. Watch Simon and Seran demonstrate how to put on, take off, and store a mask at school.
How many masks should my child or teen bring to school each day?
There is no specific number of masks to take to school. Students should have enough masks on hand so that they can change the mask if it gets soiled, wet or uncomfortable . Check with your school to see if they have specific recommendations for your child’s class.
Learn more about non-medical masks and face coverings at: https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/diseases-infections/coronavirus/guidance-for-wearing-non-medical-masks.
When should my child change their mask or face covering?
When a mask, or face covering, becomes dirty, damp, or humid, your child must change to a new mask.
When removing their mask, remind your child to place the mask in a breathable bag (not plastic).
All reusable masks (for example, a homemade cloth mask) should be brought home and washed using a hot cycle, and then dried thoroughly. If you can’t wash your mask because it is single use or disposable, throw it in the garbage right away.
Learn more about non-medical masks and face coverings at: https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/diseases-infections/coronavirus/guidance-for-wearing-non-medical-masks.
What will my child do with their mask or face covering when they are not wearing it, for example during lunch and recess?
The mask can be stored in a paper bag, envelope or container that does not retain moisture. The storage method should be clearly labelled with your child’s name. If you do not have a storage container, your child can place the mask on a clean paper towel. When putting the mask away during a break, students should make sure the inside of the mask does not touch any other surfaces. Cloth storage bags should be washed daily or when soiled and disposable bags/envelopes should be replaced at least daily as well.
What is a cohort?
Cohorting refers to keeping students together in smaller groups during the school day and related activities, limiting the exposure to other students and staff. This practice will help with contact tracing should that be necessary.
Elementary school students will be cohorted with their classmates and homeroom teacher, with limited contacts with other subject teachers. Direct and indirect contacts in schools should be limited to approximately 50.
Secondary school students should be limited to approximately 100 student contacts. Each board has created adapted schedules and timetables, depending on the size of the high school. Please refer to your school or board plan for more details.
Will my child’s teacher/educator be interacting with more than one cohort?
Will my child have to physically distance while at school?
As much distancing as possible between students and staff will be encouraged, and keeping 2 metres apart, when possible. Schools have taken steps to ensure as much distancing as possible, such as removing any excess furniture in the classroom and placing desks apart and facing forward. Your child may also notice visual cues in the hallway such as arrows indicating one-way routes. Cohorts will need to physically distance from other cohorts to reduce exposure.
Do students need to physically distance outside at recess?
Students should physically distance at recess, even when with their cohort is outdoors. Recess provides an opportunity for students to remove their masks. Being outside helps reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading, but it is still important to physically distance as much as possible.
Will I be able to visit my child or volunteer in the classroom or at the school?
Schools are being asked to significantly limit, and in some cases, prohibit visitors, including parents. Your child’s school will provide you with information regarding the process if you need to drop off or pick-up your child during the school day. Visits to ensure school safety, such as inspections by the Fire Marshal’s office or by Public Health will continue to take place.
Will my child have access to visits by community agencies (for example, health professionals) or other support staff?
Community agency staff may be allowed into schools to support students. As with anyone entering the schools, they will be required to self-screen for symptoms and wear a medical mask while on school premises.
Will my child be able to take the bus?
Parents should communicate with the bus consortium for more information on bus routes and safety precautions. Learn more information at Sudbury Student Services Consortium or the Algoma & Huron-Superior Transportation Services.
Can I drive my child to school?
Parents may choose to drive their children to school. Parents should communicate with schools to ensure they are aware of any new guidelines related to school drop-offs, for example, different times or separate entrances.
Public Health also encourages students to take part in active transportation (such as walking and cycling) when it is safe and feasible to do so.
What precautions are in place on the bus?
The bus consortiums have created guidelines that will ensure the safety of students and drivers, and are in line with the Ministry of Education’s Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools. Examples of precautions could include mask-wearing and assigned seating. For more information and to learn the specifics about precautions in place, please visit Sudbury Student Services Consortium or Algoma & Huron-Superior Transportation Services.
Eating and drinking
Whether your child is attending school in person or virtually, plan and prepare lunches ahead of time so they are well balanced with plenty of healthy good choices.
Learn more about food and healthy eat for children and youth at: https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/food-healthy-eating/ages-and-stages-contextual-page/food-healthy-eating-children-and-youth-contextual-page/
Where will my child be eating their lunch?
Students in elementary schools will be eating at their desk in their classroom. Some high school students may be eating in their school cafeteria if physical distancing is possible or if other measures are in place (for example, plexiglass).
Can my child share their food with other students?
No, food sharing is not allowed.
Will my child be able to use the water fountains at schools?
Most water fountains will be closed. Parents are encouraged to send a reusable water bottle with their child so they can refill it throughout the day at a water station. Don’t forget to label it with their name.
Will my child be able to use the microwaves at school?
No, microwaves will not be available at school. Ensure to pack a lunch that doesn’t need to be reheated or safely use a thermos for hot foods (UnlockFood.ca).
Will there be special lunch days at schools (for example, pizza, sub, pita)?
Not all schools will be offering special lunch days. Please contact your school for more information.
Will there be school cafeteria food services at schools?
Not all schools will be offering school cafeteria food services. Please contact your school for more information.
Will there be breakfast and snack programs at school?
Mental health and Well-being
How do I support my children’s mental health during COVID-19 and the return to school?
Your child may feel nervous, excited, or worried about what school will be like this school year. While there will be changes, the key school experience will be the same as before—they will learn in class with their teacher and see friends. For tips and resources to help support your child’s mental health during COVID-19 and the return to school visit https://smho-smso.ca/covid-19/ (School Mental Health Ontario).
How do I support my student’s mental health during COVID-19 this school year?
It’s important to acknowledge that students have returned to school with a wide rage of experiences and emotions in their backpacks. When learners of all ages feel safe in every way – physically, emotionally, culturally, and socially, they can spend more time learning, problem solving, regulating emotions, and curiously exploring the world.
Your safe, caring, consistent, and responsive relationship is the most important strategy to support student’s mental health. Intentionally connecting with your learners daily and letting them know that they matter, that you’re interested in hearing their stories, that their abilities and uniqueness are celebrated, and that you’re there to support them will help buffer against stress and build resilience. Your relationship really matters!
School Mental Health Ontario https://smho-smso.ca/covid-19/educators/ has developed a comprehensive toolkit to support student mental health during COVID-19. This includes what to do in case of an emergency, conversation starters, simple strategies to practice with both elementary and secondary students to manage emotions, challenges, and much more.
For more mental health resources and other health and physical education curriculum support resources visit our educator curriculum resources page https://www.phsd.ca/professionals/educators-2/curriculum-resources/
Learn more about mental health during COVID-19 at: https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/diseases-infections/coronavirus/mental-health-covid-19
Covid-19 mental health resources for the community: https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/diseases-infections/coronavirus/covid-19-resources
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health, shares her thoughts on how to prepare for a healthy and successful return to school.
Public Health has developed various resources for schools, school boards, and parents to help them follow COVID-safe school protocols (Government of Ontario).
- View our school resources.
- The Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario, in collaboration with Public Health Sudbury & Districts, created an informative and entertaining video series about COVID-19 and how to stay safe. The series, entitled “Gretchen en Quarantchaine”, is a great resource for children to help understand COVID-19 and the public health measures that have become a daily reality. Note: this video series is only available in French.
- Learn more about how to properly wear a mask or face covering. Watch Simon and Seran demonstrate how to put on, take off, and store a mask at school.
Winter 2021 return to school
As we move into the new year we have to all continue our best practices – especially at school! These videos explain our top five tips. Changing our actions takes planning and practice. Think ahead. Do your part. Stop the spread.
Christina explains her role in schools during COVID-19
You may be wondering, what a public health nurse does who works with the schools? This video explains the role of a public health nurse as the point person for a school; doing what it takes to support the creation of COVID-safe strategies.
Angèle explains her role when a COVID-19 case is identified in a school
This video describes the role of a public health nurse if a COVID-19 case is identified in a school. A public health nurse will contact the individual who tested positive or their parent/legal guardian to ensure the person is self-isolating at home and to assess symptoms and exposures. The public health nurse will then notify the school designate of the positive COVID-19 test result, and they will then provide us with a list of people who may have come in contact with the individual who tested positive.
Nadine explains her role in building resilient youth during COVID-19
This video explains how public health nurses work closely with schools to ensure that our youth have the resources to thrive. These resources include adopting a strength-based approach, focusing on building developmental strengths, nurturing a growth mindset, and cultivating developmental relationships. This will encourage and enhance the health and well-being of our school communities. Protective factors help ensure that children and youth function well at home, in school, and in the community.
Frequently asked questions
If you’d like to read frequently asked questions about COVID-19, see the most popular questions here.
This item was last modified on February 25, 2021