Toronto parents describe nerves, excitement as Ontario's largest boards resume class

Parents said they were excited but nervous as they dropped kids back at the first day of classes in Ontario's largest school boards, which began Thursday amid a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.

Other boards started their school years earlier in week, but it was the first day of class for students in the Toronto, Peel, York and Durham boards.

Chris Robinson, whose daughter was starting Grade 3 at Islington Junior Middle School in Toronto, described a mixture of emotions as he dropped his daughter off at school Thursday morning.

"It's great to see the kids back, but how long until we go virtual again?" he said. "But for now I'm going to try to be positive. My daughter was beaming this morning to be able to see her friend."

Long lineups and crowds of children mingled in the yards of several west-end Toronto schools in the morning.

Kathy Palmieri said it's a relief to both her and her 10-year-old son to be back.

"I'm worried, of course, because of the virus, but I think this will be great for both my boy and us, as parents," she said. "The kids need other kids for their own good and we need a bit of a break because online schooling was so stressful."

It will be the third school year affected by the pandemic, though this year the province's science experts are calling for schools to stay open in all but the most catastrophic circumstances. Ontario has had the longest interruption to in-person classes in Canada after the province repeatedly moved classes online to reduce surging infections.

Entrance to school buildings on Thursday was staggered for COVID-19 screening, creating long lines in the morning. The province recently removed runny nose and headache from the list of COVID-19 symptoms that require children to stay home from school and get tested for COVID-19.

Pandemic safety will be top of mind for parents and students as classes in-person learning resumes with far fewer restrictions on activities and relaxed rules for shared spaces like cafeterias.

The Ministry of Education has sent guidelines to schools in a bid to slow the spread of the virus, which include requirements that staff and students self-screen for COVID-19 each day and wear masks indoors.

Ontario's education minister said all 72 publicly funded school boards have achieved the goal of a stand-alone HEPA filter installed in every learning space that isn't mechanically ventilated.

The province has given extracurriculars including sports the green light to go ahead this year, but some Ontario boards and public health units have opted to hold off for at least the first few weeks of school.

Toronto Public Health was the latest to issue that guidance on Tuesday, recommending boards pause extra-curriculars, field trips and mixed-cohort high-contact sports for September.

Families in the Toronto Catholic District School Board were informed that the pause will be in place as school routines are established.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2021.