Ontario's science advisory table is recommending a very different school year for students across the province this September — one that includes extracurricular activities and a more relaxed approach to masking and physical distancing.
In a brief released Monday, the advisory table said schools should remain open for in-person learning unless under "catastrophic circumstances."
"The physical, emotional, and developmental health of children and youth has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions placed on schools," they wrote.
Ontario has also apparently had the longest interruption of face-to-face learning in Canada. The province's science advisory table stressed how important in-person learning is for young students because it provides academic and social opportunities, promotes positive mental health and student-to-student relationships, and physical activity.
The province currently has over 60% of all eligible Ontarians being fully vaccinated, and since vaccination rates are high, the science table predicts lower levels of COVID-19 transmission and hospitalizations in the fall.
The science advisory table's recommendations break down what to do during low- to high-risk COVID-19 scenarios. During low-risk scenarios, which means when there are "sporadic" hospitalizations, the advisory table says physical distancing and masking shouldn't be required.
Kindergarteners and elementary school kids should be masking and staying within their cohorts when the school is facing a moderate-to-high COVID-19 risk scenario, while middle school and high schoolers should be more concerned with masking and physical distancing.
Some of the permanent back-to-school suggestions Ontario's science advisory table offers include vaccination of all eligible students and "those who interact with the students" like teachers, school staff and parents.
They also recommend any student or staff member who is displaying COVID-19 symptoms or has been exposed to COVID-19 to stay home, wash their hands regularly, improve indoor air quality through proper ventilation, and practicing appropriate environmental cleaning.