5 things you need to know before Ottawa students return to school

As Ottawa students, parents and teachers prepare for the return of in-person learning on Monday, the director of education of the city’s largest school board is preaching patience.

In a note to families on Friday, Ottawa-Carleton District School Board director of education Camille Williams-Taylor acknowledged the recent transitions have been hard for families and “there are mixed feelings about the timing of the return to in-person learning.”

“School staff, like families, are trying to balance their professional responsibilities with their personal safety and family obligations,” Williams-Taylor said. “These are stressful times for everyone and now more than ever, it is so important that we take a moment to pause, reflect and respond, rather than react.”

The rapidly spreading Omicron variant delayed the return of in-person classes for two weeks. The province said this time was used to distribute masks and more HEPA filters to school boards, as well as allow more people to get vaccinated and boosted.

Classes will reopen under different circumstances on Monday, including a new case reporting strategy. Under new provincial guidelines, parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak when about 30 per cent of staff and students in the school are absent.

School buses will also resume on Monday. And school-based vaccine clinics are in the works for later this month.

Here are five things parents should keep in mind when school returns on Monday:

Daily screening tool

Officials are asking students, parents ands taff to use the provincial COVID-19 screening tool every morning to determine whether to attend school in-person. You can find it here.


Schools will distribute three-ply cloth masks to students starting next week. The Ottawa Catholic School Board said it has received 120,000 to distribute, along with more than 201,000 N95 masks for staff.

The OCDSB points out that parents may want to send an extra mask for outdoor play, since masks worn outdoors in cold weather can become damp.

Rapid testing

The province is distributing two rapid antigen tests to each student. The OCDSB says it hopes to give them out to elementary students next week once the shipment arrives, and secondary students at a later date.

They are to be used if students show symptoms of COVID-19. If a student receives two negative tests and no longer has any symptoms of COVID-19, they can return to school.

Absence reporting

The Ontario government says parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak when about 30 per cent of staff and students in the school are absent.

When student and staff absenteeism in an individual school reaches that threshold, it will trigger the principal to notify local health officials. At that point, a joint letter from the local medical officer of health and the principal would be sent to the community.

At that point, it’s possible the school would revert to remote learning, though not required.

Possible school closures

Both the OCDSB and OCSB say they will make every effort to keep schools open, but classes may have to move to remote learning if there are staffing shortages.

Parents will be advised the night before, and they are encouraged to have contingency plans in place and monitor their emails for updates.

For more information on the return to school, you can visit the OCDSB and OCSB’s websites.