By Kristin RushowyQueen’s Park Bureau
Thu., Nov. 18, 2021timer3 min. read
updateArticle was updated 46 mins ago
Ontario students will spend the winter break taking tests — COVID-19 tests.
Five rapid tests are to be sent home for the holidays with every public school pupil — for a total of 11 million — to be used twice a week during their time off and before they return to class in January, as the colder weather hits and families gather indoors.
And, in news that will relieve the province’s teenagers, high schools have been given the go-ahead to return to a normal, four-course-a-week semester in February, which Toronto’s Catholic board immediately said it would do.
“Students have experienced constant burnout and stress with the modified semester” currently in use, said Stephanie De Castro, a Grade 11 student who attends Senator O’Connor Catholic secondary.
“We’re so pleased to see the ministry taking student experience into account,” added De Castro, who is on the executive of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “these tests will provide a measure of comfort and convenience over the winter break period” and will provide families peace of mind as they get together for the holidays.
The return to a normal second semester in the new year — unless the area medical officer of health has concerns about local COVID-19 levels — is something boards had been advocating for given growing concerns about student engagement and learning with two courses being held one week, switching to another two the next, or the one-class-at-time octomester.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that “by expanding testing options over the winter holiday, putting in place additional safety measures, and returning to normal timetabling, we are taking action to ensure schools reopen safely while supporting a more positive learning environment for students.”
The holiday rapid testing is voluntary, and students who decide to take part will be directed to take the tests every three to four days — Mondays and Thursdays — starting Dec. 23, and any positive result from a rapid test will need to be confirmed with a lab-based PCR test.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said the government should have brought in rapid testing “12 to 18 months ago … it certainly would have saved headaches and heartache for parents.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the rapid tests should be “free and available for students until June in all schools.”
The province said the rapid test kits have also been offered to First Nations schools, which are federally funded.
On Thursday, Lecce also announced that students who want to take part in high-contact, indoor extracurricular sports such as basketball and hockey need to take regular rapid tests.
He also said the remainder of federal COVID-19 funding for schools will be handed over to boards, which Abraham said could amount to $1.6 billion and “will allow school boards to continue to responsibly plan for safe and effective mitigation measures for the second half of the school year.”
Parent-teacher interviews are also to remain virtual, as are assemblies in elementary schools, and elementary class cohorts are to remain together for lunches and breaks.
Last month, the province announced a test-to-stay program for schools, allowing classes and entire schools to take tests and avoid having to remain home in isolation when COVID cases arise.
“I’m anticipating a large change in student achievement and the overall well-being of students” with the new measures, said Jazzlyn Abbott, a Grade 12 student in Petawawa who is also with the trustee association.
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