COVID-19 is putting a different spin on how school supplies will be used and shared in Ontario classrooms.

Mother Lisa Van Dijk admits it’s been overwhelming figuring out what she needs to buy for her seven year old going into Grade 2 along with twins attending kindergarten.

“Do I buy a bag for my markers? Bag for the pencils? Like how many bags do I need, how big a bag to carry all this stuff? I don’t even know,” Van Dijk told CTV News Toronto on Saturday while shopping in Etobicoke.

For many families, preventing the spread of the virus means a new and difficult mantra because there are concerns that touching of the same items and surfaces could lead to greater transmission.

“I bought them their own things, we labeled everything, and I told them not to share with their friends and told them to keep it to themselves, which is heartbreaking I know,” said Marie Steward, who has two elementary students going back to school.

When it comes to concerns about shared educational supplies inside the classroom, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Saturday that while he appreciates the challenges ahead, he has confidence in schools readjusting.

“Anything that is not easy to disinfect, easy to wipe, has been removed, most educators have already done that, and that’s based on the health and safety protocol really trying to minimize transmission,” Lecce said.

Shared Materials Guidelines: Toronto District School Board

In its returning to school guidelines for elementary teachers, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) notes that, “caretakers have never been responsible for cleaning classroom material.”

Among the suggestions in a TDSB document provided to CTV News Toronto for shared materials in elementary classes, the board recommends the following:

  • Limiting when possible and disinfecting gym equipment, art supplies and toys between each use and not to use plush toys.
  • Consider providing individual bins with labels for each child’s supplies to prevent accidental sharing and a cleaning station students can drop and/or wipe object at the end of learning sessions.
  • Removing and storing items not easily cleaned like books in a container for seven days.
  • Create a daily disinfecting shared space checklist. 

The union representing Toronto elementary teachers said the plan should be revisited and called it ill conceived.

“Simply because there is no is the funding, so if teachers are to be using supplies and have them separated out different or each bin, where is the funding for those bins?,” said Jennifer Brown, President, Elementary Teachers of Toronto. “This is another expectation laid on teachers to be funding a system that is woefully underfunded.”

Brown also raised concerns around how much and how often items will be cleaned and raised questions around the availability of supplies.

“If you’re going to have children reading and you can you can only use that book once and have to put that book away for seven days, where is that additional supply of books going to be … It is not funded appropriately.”