Back to school plan in Niagara emerges, with masks and co-horts for high schoolers

high school student wearing a mask It's masks and cohorts this fall for high school students in Niagara communities

The Ontario government’s back to school plan has younger students returning to traditional classroom sizes with enhanced health and safety rules, while Niagara high school students will attend classes with only 15 students under what’s being called an “adaptive model”.

On Thursday, the Ontario government released its plan for the reopening of schools. Students attending Kindergarten through Grade 8 will go back to school across the province with in-class instruction five days a week in traditional class sizes.

High schools in the province in lower risk areas will also return to normal class sizes. However, secondary students at two dozen boards, which include Niagara’s two school boards, have been designated by the province as higher risk. At those schools, students will only attend in-person class half the time in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“It will be a combination of in-class and online learning” for high school students, explained Kim Yielding, spokesperson for the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN). “There will be two cohorts switching back and forth.”

The Niagara Catholic School Board will enact similar protocols.

“We will need to continue to adapt as the science and number of cases change between now and September and within the school year,” said John Crocco, Niagara Catholic’s Director of Education. “Our Niagara Catholic Reopening Plan provides a combination of multiple adaptive strategies and operational procedures to meet the expectations of risk mitigation for the health and safety of our students and staff.”

Masks required for students in Grades 4 to 12

Yielding said with the guidance from the Ministry of Education now in hand, the DSBN is working to “hammer out details according to the parameters we have been given.”

Further guidance from the DSBN and Niagara Catholic will be provided to parents within the next two weeks.

Under the Ontario government rules, students from Grade 4-12 and school staff will be required to wear masks. Under the temporary mask bylaw enacted by the Niagara Region from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, schools and daycares are exempt from the mandatory rules that define “enclosed spaces” where masks must be worn. The Region appears to have deferred mask-wearing in schools in its bylaw wording to allow for the province to design the mask policies at schools.

Yielding said the DSBN is working with Niagara Health and the Ministry of Education to ensure mask rules for both jurisdictions are followed.

Elementary students will be asked to follow social distancing rules of one metre, while high schoolers will need to follow two-meter social distancing rules, except when masked, and then the one-meter rule will apply.

Yield said the DSBN will also reconfigure schools for social distancing. Some of the new policies include staggered bathroom access times; arrows on the floors that direct foot traffic; And, a visit to the school office will require waiting in a designed area before being permitted to enter the office.

At Niagara Catholic, signage inside and outside of all schools will promote the importance of physical distancing and good hygiene practices. Hand-washing and cough and sneeze etiquette will be regularly reinforced, and students will be reminded to avoid touching their faces to prevent the spread of disease.

Mask usage at Niagara Catholic schools will follow provincial guidelines. “All students in Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear a mask. Masks are encouraged for students in Kindergarten through Grade 3. In keeping with advice about safe mask use, students should have multiple masks to use during the week to avoid having to wash masks daily,” the board’s advisory said. 

Parents have final say on student return to in-class lessons

The province is giving parents the final say about if their children will return to school or opt for online classes. “Parents will continue to have the option to enroll their children in remote delivery, which respects their fundamental role in making the final determination of whether they feel safe with their children returning to school,” it said in a news release.

The Ontario government also announced $309 million Thursday to fund the back to school plan. The allocation includes $60 million for personal protective equipment and $80 million for additional staffing. The province will hire 500 additional nurses to work in schools and 1,200 more school custodians.

The province’s four major teachers’ unions have said that simply isn’t enough money to ensure a safe return to class for staff and students.

The announcement comes on a day when Ontario logged fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19 for the second day in a row, with 89 new cases reported on Thursday.

A dedicated web resource has been created for parents to follow back to school news at the DSBN at Niagara Catholic’s guidance for parents and student will be posted on its website. The latest information is at:

Learn More:
Ontario government’s back to school guidance