'It's a great opportunity': Back to school will include more time outdoors in Waterloo Region

Going back to school this year is also going to mean a return to pandemic protocols for Waterloo Region students.

“Such as adhering to distancing, masking, generally looking at hand hygiene and sort of trying to keep our spaces as clean as possible,” said Loretta Notten, the director of education for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.

What has changed are the ventilation systems in schools within both the Catholic and public boards.

“We've done system-wide changes to our filters that are on our rooftop units and our ventilation unit,” said Kelly Paris, the facility manager for the Waterloo Region District School Board. “So we've upgraded those to a MERV 13 which does capture much smaller particles.”

HEPA filters have been added to kindergarten classrooms in both boards.

According to the WRDSB, heading into the new school season they plan on maximizing their time outdoors including using outdoor classroom spaces like the one at Parkway Public School.

The outdoor space at Parkway is one of six new outdoor classrooms in the region this year.

“It's a great opportunity for the teachers and for the kids to take a break from some of the learning that is happening in the indoor space and get outside,” said Melissa Stacey, the principal at Parkway Public School.

In the region, 68 per cent of those aged 12 and over have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

That's a factor both boards say will make a big difference if there is a positive case in the classroom, as being fully vaccinated may mean a quicker return to class.

Public health protocols will be the same for unvaccinated staff and students. They will need to isolate for a minimum of 10 days and a negative test is needed to return to class.

Staff with both boards who are not fully vaccinated will need to complete rapid antigen tests, with a testing schedule still being ironed out.