Toronto schools are now allowed to offer extracurricular clubs and sports, both outdoors and indoors, after public health lifted a temporary ban it imposed at the start of the month — a ban that caused an uproar among parents, students and coaches.
In a release, the Toronto District School Board said that Toronto Public Health is “now recommending the gradual return of extracurriculars as schools establish routines and cohorts, and are confident in health and safety protocols. This is very encouraging news as we know how important these activities are to students’ mental and physical health and overall school experience.”
Toronto was the lone holdout across Greater Toronto when school began two and a half weeks ago, with public health saying it wanted schools to first sort out the usual reorganization of classes, on top of reintroducing COVID-19 safety protocols after last year’s lengthy school shutdown.
Public health now says extracurriculars are allowed to gradually return with students who are 12 and up, given they are eligible for vaccines, and high-contact sports such as football, field hockey and basketball will be allowed outdoors, and students do not have to be masked. Outdoor, interschool games are permitted.
Indoors, “low contact and low intensity activities (such as clubs, bands and some sports) are permitted indoors. Masking and physical distancing is required for indoor activities,” Toronto District School Board Director of Education Colleen Russell-Rawlins relayed in an email to parents.
Public health is also asking boards to looking at limiting the number of clubs or sports kids can be involved in, to help limit contacts. The Toronto public board had previously limited secondary students to two, and elementary students to one, before the extracurricular pause was put in place before school started.
Field trips may also resume, but again with older students first, Toronto public health says.
“The TDSB welcomes the opportunity to re-engage students in extracurricular activities and is currently reviewing the new guidance and will be updating its own directions very shortly,” Russell-Rawlins wrote.
“In the meantime, please know that our schools’ first priority is ensuring the appropriate health and safety measures are in place so that activities can be done safely. We will be doing everything we can to ensure the reintroduction of these important activities does not lead to further spread of COVID-19 and will, together with (Toronto Public Health) continue to monitor the situation.
“As staff at each school will need time to create plans to reintroduce extracurriculars, the start of these activities will vary from school to school based on staff volunteers. We would ask for your continued patience and understanding as schools gradually get them up and running.”
Toronto public health says “the use of gymnasiums, swimming pools, change rooms, weight rooms, indoor physical education equipment and shared outdoor equipment are permitted with masking and physical distancing.”
As for music, wind and brass bands are still not allowed.
Public health’s move to delay extracurriculars caused an outcry from students, parents and also education directors, who said they are important to children’s mental health and well-being, and penalizes low-income students given pay-and-play community sports remain up and running.
Toronto’s Catholic elementary teachers, however, remain on a work-to-rule, so no extracurriculars will resume for younger children in that board.