Toronto Public Health says outdoor sports and low-risk indoor activities can return to the city’s schools, lifting a pause on extracurriculars that had created a furor among many students.
In a release on Monday, public-health officials recommended that school boards allow a “gradual return of clubs, activities, sports teams, bands (without wind and brass instruments) and extracurricular[s],” beginning with students between the ages of 12 and 17, who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, said that public-health officials and school boards had always envisioned a return to extracurriculars, but needed time for students to settle into their classrooms after an extended time away from school buildings.
“It takes time to re-establish routines and establish student groupings and cohorts and get into all those health and safety protocols.” Dr. de Villa said in an interview on Monday.
Even though teens are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, public-health officials are nervous that the more transmissible Delta strain could disrupt a third year of schooling.
Earlier this month, on the eve of the return to school, TPH recommended a month-long pause on sports, in-person clubs and field trips. However, many teens, who are vaccinated, called the pause unfair.
Shortly after, Dr. de Villa said that public health was in discussions with school board officials about a gradual return to extracurriculars.
On Monday, TPH said that students from different schools and mixed cohorts should limit interactions to the outdoors. Public health also said that schools should keep attendance records specifically for contact tracing.
Masking will not be required when students are participating in high-intensity outdoor activities, but TPH said it should be considered when possible. Masking and physical distancing would be required for indoor activities, TPH said.
Brendan Browne, director of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said that practices for high-school sports, including football, field hockey and cross country, should start this week. He said many students were disappointed with the pause and school officials have been “working really closely” with public health to resume extracurriculars.
“We recognize how much this means to kids,” Mr. Browne said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said sports and clubs should be restored because they play a vital role in the physical and mental well-being of students.
The province’s science advisory table also recommended a return to extracurriculars but cautioned local public-health officials could implement temporary measures and restrictions depending on how much virus is circulating in the community.
Neighbouring boards, including Peel and York, are going ahead with extracurriculars. The Thames Valley School Board, in London, said that high-school students who choose to participate in extracurricular activities should be vaccinated by Nov. 1. In the meantime, those students who haven’t received both doses are allowed to sign up for extracurriculars two weeks after they’ve received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as long as they complete a daily COVID-19 screening and administer a rapid test twice a week.
Asked if Toronto considered a similar measure, Dr. de Villa said that it is still a subject of discussion.
“We do remain open to the possibilities of what other measures are required in order to address the circumstances as we see them on the ground,” she said.
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