return to school

What a return to school in the age of COVID will look like in Toronto’s private schools

From smaller class sizes to increased cleaning and sanitization, a primer on what you need to know about sending your little ones back to school this fall

With summer coming to a close, it’s only natural that thoughts turn to fall: cooler temperatures, changing leaves, switching from short sleeves to sweaters and jackets. But for parents with school-aged children, thoughts quickly turn to getting those children ready for a return to school. But this will be a return to the classroom like no other. COVID-19 has created a “new normal” in many ways, and that will now extend to classrooms. For parents sending kids back to private school, here are some of the main things to consider as the first day of school approaches.

Will class sizes be smaller?

Private schools already have the advantage of smaller class sizes, but even so, efforts are being made to ensure enough space is provided for students in all grades. For the most part, classes will contain 15 students or less, with often smaller groups for younger grades. For example, 12 students in junior and senior kindergarten at both Crestwood and Children’s Garden School.

Will my child have to wear a mask?

The short answer is most likely. But that will depend on the school and age of the child. For example, Dalia Eisen, director of Crestwood School, explains that children in Grades 3 to 6 will have to wear masks in classrooms and in the hallways but not outdoors. In addition, every student at Crestwood will have a Plexiglas sneeze shield affixed to their desk for added protection. The scenario is similar at J. Addison School in Markham where principal Lee Venditti explains that masks will be mandatory for all students in Grades 4 through 12. Whereas at Children’s Garden School (CGS), Kelly Scott, director of admissions, says masks will be options for students who wish to wear them.

What if I choose to keep my child at home to learn?

It’s safe to assume that some parents may want to opt out of in-school learning for their children. In these cases, there are online or live streamed learning options available. Crestwood School will be broadcasting live streamed lessons via Zoom, and at J. Addison the situation is similar, with principal Venditti adding, “If students choose online, they will be part of Microsoft Teams, with live lessons being taught online from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.” In addition, students will also be assigned a Microsoft school email and can join the live classroom with their classmates and teacher.

What happens if a student or staff member shows symptoms of COVID-19?

No school wants to envision a scenario in which anyone contracts COVID-19, but should that occur (or should someone develop symptoms at school), protocols are in place to ensure the virus is contained. For starters, anyone showing symptoms in general should remain isolated at home. If someone begins showing symptoms at school, they will be isolated until they can leave the premises. “They will have to be tested. If they test negative, they come back to school. If they test positive, the whole class has to quarantine for 14 days,” says Eisen. In addition, schools will need to have contact-tracing measures in place. “For testing and contact tracing, CGS will follow the guidelines provided by Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Health,” says Scott. “The school will maintain up-to- date contact lists, school attendance of staff, students and any essential workers, for the purpose of contact tracing.”

What additional cleaning and sanitization will schools be implementing?

Increased cleaning and sanitizing will be a regular occurrence at all private schools in the province, especially where high touch surfaces are concerned, such as doorknobs, light switches, handrails and washroom faucets, which will be cleaned multiple times a day. Deep cleaning will occur after school hours. “Full-time cleaning staff will now be present throughout the school day to ensure all washrooms and other high touch areas are cleaned frequently, and cleaning and disinfecting supplies will be available in every classroom for immediate use when needed,” says Scott. In terms of handwashing and sanitising for students, there will be more time for that. Eisen has placed 30 wall-mounted touchless hand sanitizers throughout the school, and J. Addison School has installed a handwashing station in the hallway for students.

What will lunchtime look like for students?

The days of cafeterias filled with boisterous kids are over for now as schools find ways to maintain adequate physical distancing among students. These plans vary from school to school, but you can expect some changes to the regular lunchtime routine. At Crestwood, Eisen explains that the cafeteria will not be used, and all students will be eating lunch in their classrooms. This is also the case for Children’s Garden School, to ensure safe physical distancing can be maintained. At J. Addison School, Venditti explains that Montessori students will eat meals and snacks in the classroom, while those in Grades 4 through 12 will have tiered lunch schedules in the cafeteria and sit at designated spots.

Will there be after-care, sports or other programs going into the new school year?

This will largely depend on the school, but, for the most part, sports and clubs will not be taking place for the time being at schools such as J. Addison School and Crestwood. However, Eisen says that the school will still be offering after-care. After-care will also be available at Children’s Garden School, but Scott says that parents are encouraged only to use it when absolutely necessary to keep the numbers down and allow for social distancing. She adds that clubs will be offered but only within each cohort so there is no mixing with other students in the school.

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