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Students wear masks at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. on Sept. 11, 2020.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Ontario will not require colleges and universities to enforce physical distancing or capacity limits in most classrooms when school resumes, according to new guidance issued by the province.

The memo sent out to colleges and universities marks a shift from the current legislation, which caps indoor classroom capacity at either 50 per cent or 1,000 students, and mandates physical distancing.

That legislation is due to be amended on Sept. 7.

“This applies to indoor instructional spaces only. Step 3 requirements for outdoor instructional spaces remain the same,” reads the memo from Shelley Tapp, deputy minister of colleges and universities. “Outside of these specific changes, [postsecondary] institutions continue to be subject to all other Step 3 requirements, including masking indoors.”

The province is sticking with the language in the existing regulations when it comes to outdoor learning, which sets the capacity of outdoor instructional space at 75 per cent or 15,000 people.

The province also says schools must have a COVID-19 vaccination policy in place on or before Sept. 7.

That policy must – at minimum – require unvaccinated staff and students to attend an educational session on vaccines, according to a document from the office of the chief medical officer of health.

Schools also have the option to require vaccines for those without a medical exemption.

The vaccination policy must also require unvaccinated staff and students to complete regular COVID-19 tests.

The decision to lift class size caps is already facing pushback from a group that represents faculty unions.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations said lifting class size limits puts students and instructors at greater risk of COVID-19, even with vaccination policies in place.

“As much as faculty, students, and university administrators would like this pandemic to be over, it is not,” the group said in a statement issued Wednesday.

It said the province should acknowledge the growing body of evidence suggesting COVID-19 is airborne, and craft policies accordingly.

“As cases of the Delta variant continue to rise, mandating vaccination policies is only one of many safeguards needed to ensure a safer return to campus,” the group said in the statement, listing class size limits, physical distancing and improved ventilation as other necessary measures.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said schools are able to institute their own, stricter rules.

“Postsecondary institutions will continue to have flexibility to offer both in-person and virtual options for teaching and learning to best suit the needs of students and institutions,” said Tanya Blazina.

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