Ottawa’s largest board limits sports, leisure activities

School boards are allowed to strengthen provincial COVID-19 pandemic protocols to suit local conditions.

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Sports teams and personal leisure activities are not allowed for students on Ottawa’s largest school board this fall.

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The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board sent a message to parents on Thursday, even outlining some of the restrictions it imposes on protecting students from COVID-19.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said he wants elementary school and high school students to return to as normal a school year as possible.

The province’s guidelines for back-to-school allow sports teams, personal leisure activities, indoor gatherings, excursions, dining in cafeterias, singing, wind instruments and indoor sports without masks, all with some distance requirements.

However, school boards are allowed to strengthen these pandemic protocols to suit local conditions.

In Ottawa, it is becoming different rules on the four boards, even though the schools they run are in some cases located right next to each other or in the same neighborhood.

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To further complicate matters, Ottawa Public Health is working with other local health units in the province to coordinate recommendations for additional school pandemic restrictions to avoid a patchwork approach, Health Secretary Brent Molougney told administrators at a board meeting in Ottawa-Carleton this week.

He said these recommendations would be made soon. In previous comments, Ottawa Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches that she would recommend that students who engage in physical activity indoors should wear masks.

Meanwhile, Ottawa boards are making their own decisions on how to protect children as the province faces a fourth pandemic wave powered by the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant. The number of cases is rising and officials are begging everyone who is eligible to get a vaccine.

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Ontario’s Chief Health Officer, Dr. Kieran Moore, has warned that the province could face a difficult fall and winter as schools reopen and more people lead indoors.

Moloughney told board members in Ottawa-Carleton that parents should be sure to send their children back to personal classes. The number of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa is manageable, though cases are slowly rising, he added.

Keeping the transmission of the virus low in the community is key because it will lower cases in schools, Moloughney said.

Vaccines have not been approved for children under 12 and are unlikely by the end of October, he said.

The Ottawa-Carleton board, the city’s largest with 75,000 students, is taking the most cautious approach to date.

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In its announcement to parents, the board said personal recreational sports and other activities would not be allowed when schools reopen Sept. 9. It will be assessed after the schools have successfully opened.

School meetings are held practically or outdoors. Excursions will be limited to outdoor properties or in the neighborhood, but no busing is allowed. The meeting teacher and school board meetings will take place virtually.

Additional pandemic health and safety measures could come next week when board members debate proposals for mandatory vaccines for staff, visitors and perhaps students, as well as an extension of masking requirements for kindergarten students. The province’s plan makes masks compulsory indoors for students in grades 1 to 12.

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Earlier this week, the Ottawa Catholic School Board announced its back-to-school plan, which also had restrictions beyond the province’s guidelines. Large group gatherings will not be allowed indoors and excursions are prohibited when schools reopen in the fall.

Both English boards say elementary students will continue to have lunch in classrooms, as they did last year, and visitors and volunteers at schools will only be limited to significant causes.

The school reopening plan, released by Ottawa’s French elementary school board, is more in line with the province’s guidelines. Clubs, sports teams and leisure activities are allowed. More guidelines for physical activities and music programs are still pending, the plan says.

Kindergarten and preschool students must wear masks while riding school buses at the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario.

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