Preparing for a Safe and Healthy Return to School​

Health and Safety Protocols​

  • Halton Region Public Health has developed a resource providing recommendations for school reopening. ​
  • It includes considerations for the development of policies and procedures, adherence to infection prevention and control practices, and appropriate response planning to ensure the health and safety of school staff, students, parents/guardians and essential visitors. ​
  • This resource and our ongoing discussions with Halton Region Public Health have formed the basis of our HCDSB Return to School Plan.

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Daily Self-Screening

Monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 in students and staff is essential to keeping our school communities healthy and safe.

  • The  COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool for Schools must be completed by all staff, students and essential visitors prior to entering the school each day. ​
  • All school staff and all secondary school students must confirm they have completed the self-screening and received a ‘pass’ to attend work/school.

Confirmation of Screening for Secondary Students

UPDATE! Effective Monday, February 8, 2021, secondary school students attending in-person learning will need to provide confirmation that they have completed the self-screening and received a ‘pass’ to attend school. Any student who does not pass the School Screening Tool must stay home and self-isolate until they meet the criteria for return.

  • A daily reminder will be sent to students each morning from the school.  The reminder will include a link to the Ontario School Screening Tool.
  • Students will be required to show their classroom teacher the ‘pass’ confirmation on their personal device (e.g. phone, laptop, etc.) or show a printed copy of the ‘pass’ confirmation.
  • Students who require the use of a school device to complete the screening are asked to report to the office or area designated by the school Principal prior to going to class to complete their daily screening.
  • Parents and guardians of students requiring assistance, including students with special education needs, are asked to contact their child’s teacher to make arrangements for alternate ways to confirm that they have completed the Ontario School Screening and received a pass to attend school.  This may include setting up an electronic practice, verbal communication, or the provision of paper copies of the screening tool that can be sent with the student in the morning.
  • No student data (e.g. screenshot, pdf, paper confirmation, etc.) will be retained by the school.

COVID-19 Symptoms/Exposure Protocol

Students or staff with symptoms BEFORE the school day begins

Students or staff who show signs/symptoms of COVID-19 before the start of the school/work day should:

  • Stay at home
  • Seek medical advice, including the recommendation of testing for COVID-19 as appropriate or as advised by their medical provider
  • In some circumstances, special efforts may be needed to facilitate access to COVID-19 testing to meet the needs of some staff or students/families
  • Remain isolated and excluded from school until test results are received as per COVID-19 Class Order.

UPDATE! Effective February 18, 2021, the COVID-19 School Screening Tool was changed and now requires that  students and staff with any new or worsening symptoms of COVID-19, even those with only one (1) symptom, must stay home until:

  • They receive a negative COVID-19 test result.; OR
  • They receive an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional.; OR 
  • It has been 10 days since their symptom onset, and they are feeling better.

Self-Isolation Requirements for Families in a Household 

UPDATE! Effective February 18, 2021, the Ministry of Health requires that individuals living in the same household are now required to self-isolate when a family member has COVID-19 symptoms, even if the family member only has one (1) symptom.  

The following isolation requirements now apply: 

  • All members in a household of a symptomatic individual are required to self-isolate until the individual:
    • Receives a negative COVID-19 test resultOR
    • Receives an alternative diagnosis by a health care professional.
  • If someone in your household tests positive, or is not tested and does not receive an alternative diagnosis from a health care professional:
    • This individual must isolate (including from others in your household) for 10 days from the date of experiencing symptoms. AND
    • All members of the same household must isolate for 14 days from their last date of exposure with the symptomatic family/household member. 

Students or staff with symptoms DURING the school day

Staff are to monitor self and students for signs/symptoms of COVID-19 while at school, including before and after school care affiliated with the school.

  • Students (and their siblings) will be immediately separated from others and supervised in a designated room/space. Parents/guardians will be contacted to pick up their children; this includes the child with symptom(s) and any siblings.
  • Ill students should not take school or public transportation.
  • Any staff or essential visitors with signs/symptoms of COVID-19 must go home immediately. If they cannot return home immediately, they must be isolated in a designated room/space until their departure.
  • Any staff or essential visitors with sign/symptoms of COVID-19 should avoid using public transportation.
  • In general, schools should not report all instances of ill individuals in the school setting to Halton Region Public Health as these are frequent occurrences and typically students have nonspecific symptoms.
  • If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, Halton Region Public Health will notify the individual/parent(s) and the school.

Isolation Rooms

  • Each school and Board site will have a designated isolation area for staff/students/visitors who have signs/symptoms of COVID-19 and are waiting transportation home.
  • It may be necessary to have more than one designated isolation area depending on the size of the school.
  • Students in the isolation room will be supervised according to the regular school supervision protocols.
  • Designated staff member providing care to a student, staff member or essential visitor with signs/symptoms of COVID-19 must wear PPE from the kit including a medical mask, eye protection, gloves and gown and maintain as much physical distance as possible. Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette should be practiced while the ill individual is waiting to be picked up. A medical mask is worn by the person with signs/symptoms of COVID-19 (if tolerated).
  • Thorough cleaning and disinfection of the room/area and any items touched by the symptomatic individual must be completed upon their departure, if cleaning is delayed appropriate signage will be posted on the front door until cleaning and disinfection is complete.

Contact Tracing

In the event of a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19, Halton Region Public Health will notify the school within 24 hours to provide further information on contact tracing and outbreak management. A letter will be provided to notify staff and parents/ guardians of the COVID-19 exposure.

Public Health will provide additional information and follow-up with individuals confirmed with COVID-19 and will find out who the individual’s close contacts are and contact them.  In these cases, the Board or School will need to assist in providing contact information.   Each school and or work location is responsible for maintaining daily contact and Visitor Protocol Forms for all essential visitors. Schools will maintain a record of classroom and bus seating plans and must ensure that all contact information is continually updated.

Outbreak Protocol

An outbreak in a school is defined as two or more lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff in a school with an epidemiological link, within a 14-day period, where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school (including transportation and before or after school care).

For more information, see Appendix B – School Outbreak Management Halton Region Public Health Support for Schools with COVID-19 Case or Outbreak.


Physical Distancing​

As much distancing as possible between all individuals will be promoted at all times. Physical distancing measures will be supplemented with other public health measures supported by health and safety strategies, such as screening, adapted school environments, cohorting, hand hygiene, enhanced cleaning and masking.

Distancing should be maintained between and within cohorts in both indoor and outdoor learning and play spaces when possible. The school will have plans in place that are site-based to monitor/enforce physical distancing.

Physical distancing strategies that will be incorporated in school include:

  • Increased physical distance of chairs and tables/desks in all rooms (including cafeteria, library, staff areas)
  • Classes will be held outside as much as possible, when weather permits.
  • Student desks will be arranged with as much distancing as possible and facing in the same direction.
  • Staggered periods of student movement around school and students will be discouraged from congregating in hallways.
  • Staggered student/staff lunch/break times, recess times and use of communal spaces (e.g., library, gym, cafeteria, staff room).


  • To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, school staff will monitor to ensure that students are not gathering in groups before school starts and after school.
  • Parents and guardians are asked review with their children about the need to follow physical distancing guidelines and remind your older children to refrain from congregating in groups before and after school.
  • Parents, guardians and caregivers are asked not to gather during drop off and pick up times, and to refrain from carpooling if physical distancing and the use of PPE (masks) cannot be maintained.

Enhanced Cleaning & Disinfection Protocol​

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection protocols will be followed in all HCDSB schools and workplaces.

This includes:

  • All high-touch points* will be disinfected twice daily or when visibly dirty.  ​
  • Disinfectant wipes and no-touch disinfectant spray will be provided in the classroom for disinfection of high-touch items in the classroom throughout the day. ​
  • Staff rooms will be cleaned daily in the evenings. Disinfectant wipes or no-touch disinfectant spray will be provided for intraday disinfection, as required. ​
  • Gymnasiums will be disinfected between each class using the space.​
  • School libraries will only be used by staff and will be cleaned daily in the evenings. Disinfectant wipes or no-touch disinfectant spray will be provided for intraday disinfection, as required. ​
  • Hand hygiene and disinfection station resources will be inspected daily and restocked as needed. ​
*High-touch points include doorknobs, light switches, push plates, panic bars, handrails, elevator buttons, faucet handles, flush handles, stall latches, product dispensers, paper towel dispensers, benches and bottle fillers.

Ventilation in Classrooms/Portables​

  • Each of our classrooms, including all portables, use mechanical ventilation systems to provide fresh air to classrooms. ​
  • In classrooms and workrooms with windows, staff may opt to open windows at their own discretion.​
  • HCDSB maintenance staff conduct regular inspections and preventative maintenance on all HVAC components to ensure proper operations. ​
  • Use of mobile fans and space heaters will not be permitted.

Use of Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)​

Personal protective equipment (PPE): Is protective clothing or equipment designed to protect the wearer’s body from injury or infection. PPE can include gloves, masks, face shields, gowns, safety shoes etc. PPE is not a substitute for other preventative measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene or COVID-19 testing.

Mask Use By Staff

  • Medical masks will be provided for teachers and all other school staff.  Reasonable exceptions to this requirement will be put in place.
      • All staff in Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, the Community Living Class, and Secondary Life Skills Class must wear a mask and eye protection (goggles or face shield) at all times.
      • All staff who work in multiple classrooms with students must wear a mask and eye wear protection (googles or face shield) at all times.
      • All other school staff must wear a medical mask at all times, and where physical distancing cannot be maintained, they must wear a medical and eye protection (goggles or face shield).

Mask Use by Students

  • All HCDSB students (K- 12) are required to wear non-medical masks/ face coverings at school.
  • As of February 8, 2021, the Ministry of Education requires that masks be worn by students outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Supervised mask breaks will be provided for students throughout the school day.

Please see Halton Region’s tip sheet for the use of non-medical masks.

Exemptions for Mask Wearing

With reasonable exceptions, a student may be granted an exemption from the requirement to wear a mask or face covering.

An exemption may be requested for a student in Grades K-12 for the following reasons:

  • A pre-existing medical condition.
  • A diagnosis or learning profile that would limit a student’s ability to tolerate or safely wear a mask, including whereby a mask would affect essential communication for a person who is hearing impaired.
  • Other, as detailed by a healthcare practitioner.

Parents and guardians requesting an exemption from mask wearing for their child(ren) are asked to contact the School Principal.

If the reason for exception is known to the school, via examples such as a Medical Plan of Care, or an Individual Education Plan (IEP), no further documentation is required. However, if the condition is unknown to the school and/or unknown whether the condition restricts the student’s ability to wear a mask, the Parent/Guardian may be asked by the Principal to provide supporting health information with the request.

Hand Hygiene & Respiratory Etiquette

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is one of the most important protective strategies. Hygiene education and routines will be explicitly taught and reinforced regularly. Training on hand hygiene, including the use of alcohol-based hand rub and its use will be reinforced.

Breaks will be scheduled to allow students to wash their hands at appropriate times during the school day. Furthermore, hand hygiene stations with alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR, minimum 60%) are available at all school entrances along with COVID-19 information/signage (e.g., screening information, hand hygiene, physical distancing).

Proper and frequent hand hygiene practices by staff and students will be encouraged:

  •        Soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  •        At regular time intervals throughout day
  •        Before/after eating food
  •        After using washroom
  •        Before/after outdoor play

Soap and water are preferred when hands are visibly soiled. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if handwashing is not possible.


Hand Sanitizer/Handwashing Stations

  • Hand sanitizer wall dispensers will be available by the front door of every school and at prominent side entrances. ​
  • Hand sanitizer pump dispensers will be provided in all classrooms without a sink, including portable classrooms.  ​
  • Hand soap will be provided in all classrooms with a sink. ​
  • All handwashing locations with an automatic faucet will have a hands-free hand dryer or paper towel dispenser.​
  • All handwashing locations with a manual faucet will have a paper tower dispenser.  ​

Respiratory Etiquette

Proper respiratory etiquette is a key proactive strategy to minimizing the spread of COVID-19. We will have education posters in prominent areas throughout each school.

Respiratory etiquette includes:

  • Covering nose and mouth during coughing and sneezing with a tissue or sneezing or coughing into your sleeve or elbow.
  • Disposing of used tissues into the garbage immediately after use.
  • Practicing proper hand hygiene immediately after coughing or sneezing or touching one’s face.


Minimizing Contact During the School Day

Drop-off and Pick-up Protocol

Each school will have set locations and times for drop-off/pick-up and staffing requirements to support and monitor physical distancing during student’s arrivals/departures via private transportation and active travel (e.g., walking, wheeling). Signage or landmarks will be used to make drop-off/pick-up locations easy to identify.

Drop-off/pick-up procedures should support physical distancing and cohorting using strategies that may include:

  • Only one designated parent/guardian drop-off/pick-up
  • Separate cohort entrances (where possible)
  • Outdoor drop-off/pick-up (unless there is a need for parent/guardian to enter the school)
  • Staggering entry or limiting the number of people in entry areas
  • Physical distancing ground markings

Safe Entry into School

  • ​Designated entry and exit doors will be established in every school. ​
  • Physical distancing window stickers/signs will be posted at all common entrances. ​
  • Students will line up to enter the school.​
  • Staggered entry into the school so there are fewer students in the hallway at a time. ​
  • Kindergarten students will enter classroom directly upon arrival in the morning.​

Visitor Restrictions

  • In the upcoming school year, schools are asked to significantly limit or even prohibit visitors, including parents.
  • Visits to ensure school safety, such as inspections by the Fire Marshal’s office or by public health, should continue to take place.
  • Any visitors to a school must self-screen and to wear a medical mask while on school premises.
  •      Schools will limit non-essential visitors – parents, volunteers, guests to the school – whenever possible, conduct virtual meetings, gatherings, and visits
  •      All visitors (Parents/Community Members) to access school at approval of Administrator only
  •      Mandatory mask policy for all visitors to the school including Lunch Program Food providers
  •      Third party providers to provide their own PPE


Elementary Schools

  • Elementary students who return to school for in-class instruction will be in a conventional model of delivery with one cohort for the full day.
  • Lunch, break times and recess times will be staggered.
  • Students will eat lunch in their classroom with their cohort.
  • Designated ‘zones’ will be set up in the school yard for each class (cohort).
  • Students will be allowed to play at recess with peers from their cohorts only.

Secondary Schools

  • Secondary students who return to school for in-class instruction will be in an adapted model of delivery with two class cohorts, up to 15 students in each cohort.
  • Students will not be dismissed into the hallway or allowed to hang out in the atrium/cafeteria.

Keeping Classrooms Safe

  • ​Students will wash/sanitize their hands when entering the classroom. ​
  • Students will have designated fixed seating. ​
  • Carpets will be removed from classrooms. ​
  • No soft furniture that is not easily cleaned will be kept in the classroom.​
  • Sharing of supplies, equipment, toys, etc. will be limited. Any equipment that is shared must be sanitized between students. ​


  • All washrooms  with an automatic faucet will have a hands-free hand dryer or paper towel dispenser.​
  • All washrooms with a manual faucet will have a paper tower dispenser.  ​
  • Physical distancing floor decals will be placed at entrances to all student washrooms. ​
  • Signage will be posted to indicate the maximum number of students allowed in the washroom at once. ​
  • Tracking system/log will be used to record time and location of student access to washrooms.​

Water Fountains & Bottle Fillers

  • All water fountains will be wrapped and/or made inoperable. ​
  • Bottle filling stations will remain operable.​
  • Bottle filling stations are installed in all HCDSB schools.​
  • Students will be required to bring their own drink bottle that is labelled, and not shared.

Use of Shared Spaces

  • Lunch, break times and recess times will be staggered. ​
  • At the secondary level, students will not be dismissed into the hallway or allowed to hang out in the atrium/cafeteria. ​
  • Number of students/staff/essential visitors gathering in common areas will be limited, and signage will be posted. ​
  • Classes will not be using the Library/Learning Commons. ​
  • Gym changerooms will not be used. ​
  • Physical education classes will take place outside whenever possible. ​
  • Assemblies and/or large gatherings should be avoided. Virtual options should be offered instead of in-person gatherings. ​
  • Students lockers are not to be used, and will be fixed in the closed position.

Health & Physical Education

The Guide to Reopening Ontario’s Schools recommends the following for students and staff:

  • Maintain physical distancing when moderate to vigorous exercise takes place outdoors.
  • Masks should not be worn for high intensity activity.
  • Gymnasiums should only be used for moderate activity where physical distancing and current masking protocols can be followed.
  • Gymnasiums and weight rooms will not be open for personal use.
  • Weight rooms will not be open to students and staff unless disinfected prior to use.
  • Changerooms should only be used when absolutely necessary, and capacity should be limited to accommodate physical distancing.  
  • Sharing equipment should be limited, and equipment must be disinfected regularly.
  • Proper hand hygiene must be practiced before and after participating in physical activity and equipment use.

To ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, alternate arrangements may be required for some courses/subjects, in keeping with the guidance set by the Ministry.


  • Transparent (plexiglass) barriers will be situated in the main office where administrative staff regularly interact with students and visitors.
  • Transparent barriers may also be used for meetings with student(s). Staff who frequently have student meetings may be allocated a transparent barrier to provide protection if appropriate physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as SERT rooms or shared alternative space for access with all professionals.
  • When using barriers appropriate PPE must be nearby for use in an emergency


To help minimize the spread of COVID-19, we have received Ministry direction to continue to follow physical distancing measures both inside our schools and in outside areas. School staff will be monitoring to ensure that students are not gathering in groups before and after school.

Parents are also asked to remind your children not to congregate in the hallways or around the school, and outside before and after school, and to refrain from carpooling if physical distancing and the use of PPE (masks) cannot be maintained.


  • Signs will be posted at entrances to the school to remind students, staff, parents/guardians and essential visitors about COVID-19 protocols (e.g., screening information, Do Not Enter signage, hand hygiene, physical distancing).
  • Designated routes for students/staff to get to and from classrooms will be determined and marked with arrow floor decals.
  • Markings on floors and walls will be used to promote physical distancing, including for lines/queues (e.g., tape on floors, signs on walls).

Health and Safety Training​

  • All staff will be provided with a full day of Health and Safety training prior to the start of the school year.  ​
  • This will include training on COVID-19 awareness, screening, signs, symptoms, as well as donning/doffing PPE, and other safety protocols related to the return to work.   ​
  • Training on COVID awareness, masks/face coverings and safety protocols will also be made available to parents and students. ​
  • A COVID-19 School Re-opening Committee will be established at each school to support the implementation of the Return to School plan at the school level. ​
De Franco, RobPreparing for a Safe and Healthy Return to School​