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Going Back to School during COVID-19

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit is working with local school boards to support the reopening of schools and provide guidance and recommendations as the boards develop reopening plans in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s Guide to reopening Ontario’s schools.

Many parents have questions about what will happen in the event that their child, another student, a staff member or multiple persons become ill or test positive for COVID-19. The Ontario Government has released Operational guidance: COVID-19 management in schools, a document that aims to address these questions by outlining the steps schools are to follow in the event of an illness or COVID-19 outbreak at a school.

COVID-19: reopening schools in Ontario

Find out how Ontario is keeping students and staff safe during the 2020-21 school year and what to expect if there is a COVID-19 case in your child’s school.

Preparing students for the return to school


Going back to school can be hard or anxiety producing even during the best of times, and this is especially true this fall. During the COVID-19 pandemic, children have not been in school for nearly six months, and your child may feel nervous about returning to school. Here are some ideas you can use to prepare your child for returning to school in September.

Establish routines

Re-focus your child on routines and practise them before school starts – go to bed, get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get screened for symptoms, grab your backpack, lunch and mask, and leave for school.

Keep it positive

Focus on the positive and fun parts of school like picking out clothes for the first day, seeing old friends and making new ones, seeing their teachers and getting to do fun activities.

Practise, practise, practise

Practise proper hand-washing and hand sanitizer use.

Watch some hand-washing videos together. Children are going to be asked and reminded to do this many times a day, so developing a habit, and proper technique, will be helpful.


For younger children:


For older children:


Practise covering coughs and sneezes.


For younger children:


For older children:


Work on getting your child comfortable wearing a mask or face covering.


Make sure your child knows how to put it on, wear it properly, remove it, store it and when to discard or replace it.


For younger school-aged children, use play to normalize wearing masks.


Put masks on their toys together, put a mask on yourself, get siblings and relatives to wear them and do fun activities with masks on. Reward your child or play a game while wearing a mask. Show pictures or videos of other kids wearing masks. Look in the mirror together when putting masks on.


  • Start with wearing a mask for a few minutes and increase the time each day.
  • Practise removing your masks, placing it in a resealable container or paper bag, then have a snack or drink and putting it back on for the next activity.
  • Make sure your child can open and close their own food containers, packages and drinks. Start practising with lunches and snacks before school starts.
  • Practise putting on and taking off sweaters, shoes and outerwear. Try to send your kids in coats, shoes, pants and other clothing that they can fasten and remove independently.


Have a conversation about school and COVID-19


Talk to your child about some of the new health measures and why they are important to follow in school.

  • This may include wearing masks, sanitizing hands, physical distancing, not sharing their personal items with other students, and telling a teacher or staff when they are not feeling well at school.


Talk to your child about cohorts, what that means for them and why it is important.

  • A cohort is a group of students and staff who remain together each day.
  • This may mean your child won’t see all of their friends as much as they used to.
  • Lunch/nutrition breaks and recess may be different than before with distancing measures.
  • Staying in a cohort makes it easier and quicker for public health to track and trace contacts when there is a suspected case of COVID-19.


A parent’s role in keeping schools safe

Conduct a daily screening of your child(ren)

  • Familiarize yourself, your family and your child with the common symptoms of COVID-19 so everyone knows what symptoms to look for in themselves and each other.
  • Screen your child for symptoms each morning before leaving for school or sending your child on a bus.
  • Be familiar with local COVID-19 testing sites in the event you or your child develops symptoms.
  • Use the COVID-19 school screening from the Ontario government.


Keep your child home when needed

  • Any student who is feeling unwell or showing symptoms of COVID-19 must stay home from school.
  • Students and their families must not enter school if they are feeling sick or have had close contact with a confirmed case or close contact with someone who is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Government safety measures for travelers still apply when your child returns to school. Students and their families who have recently travelled outside Canada are required to quarantine for 14 days and cannot enter school during that time.

 Keep as much distance as possible between you and others.

  • 2 metres is best, if possible.
  • Keep this distance during drop-off and pick-up
  • Keep this distance during interactions with a teacher, school staff, or other parents and students


Be prepared to pick up students promptly if they show symptoms at school.

  • You will be asked to pick up your child from school if they show or report symptoms. Make sure your contact information is current at school, including emergency contacts and individuals authorized to pick up your child(ren). If that list includes anyone who is at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider identifying an alternate person. Be familiar with your school’s plan for how they will communicate with families when a positive case or exposure to someone with COVID-19 is identified and ensure student privacy is upheld.


Plan for possible school closures or periods of quarantine.

  • If transmission is increasing in our community or if multiple children or staff test positive for COVID-19, the school building might close.
  • Similarly, if your child, or a close contact of your child (within or outside of school) tests positive for COVID-19, your child may need to stay home and quarantine for 14 days. You may need to consider the possibility of working from home, taking leave from work, or identifying someone who can supervise your child in the event there is a school closure or your child has to quarantine.


Plan for transportation:

If possible, choose an active form of transportation to get to and from school (e.g. walking, cycling). This outdoor time is a great way to sneak in some more physical activity, especially since recess, Phys. Ed and DPA (daily physical activity) may be more limited than years past.

  • Walking and biking is a great way for families to contribute to the health of their community by leaving space on the school bus for those who need it and reducing traffic in the drop-off and pick-up areas at school.
  • The trip to school can be a chance for a child to “be a kid” in a time with a lot of change and new structure.


If your child rides a bus, plan for your child to wear a face covering (mandatory for students Grades K-12) on the bus and talk to your child about the importance of following bus rules, including assigned seating and physical distancing, if possible.

  • If your child normally takes the school bus, consider walking/driving them to school if you are able and your situation allows for it. This may help with distancing on buses for those who do not have any other option.
  • If carpooling, plan on every child in the carpool and the driver wearing face coverings for the entire trip. Consider finding families within your child’s group or cohort at school to be part of the carpool.


Personal items:

  • Limit personal belongings your child brings to school.
  • Label everything, including masks and their storage containers, reusable water bottles, lunch boxes, hats, etc.
  • Discourage sharing of food and personal items like school supplies and masks.
  • Pack extra masks in your child’s backpack if possible.
  • Consider packing a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your child’s lunch to use before and after eating (if they know how to use it properly and safely).
  • You may want to pack a tea towel or cloth for your child to eat their lunch on, changing it each day.


Pack healthy and safe lunches:

Children who eat well can focus longer and are ready to learn at school and eating well and staying hydrated is important to help fight off illness.

Here are some things to keep in mind if your child is returning to classroom learning:

At home:

  • Wash hands before and after preparing and handling food.
  • Wash and disinfect surfaces before and after preparing and packing food.
  • Use an insulated bag with a freezer pack or thermos to keep food cool. Chill milk or freeze drinking water to help keep food cool.
  • Pack food choices that are ready to eat and don’t need to be reheated.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits well under cool, running water before use.
  • Pack food that your child can eat without help from others.
  • If using a re-usable lunch bag or containers, make sure to wash them daily with hot, soapy water.
  • Label containers, bottles, lunch bags and reusable utensils with your child’s name.
  • Do not reuse plastic bags – they can hold bacteria.


At school:

  • There will be no access to appliances like microwaves, toasters or kettles at school.
  • New practices will be put in place regarding access to water fountains. Students should bring a full reusable water bottle labelled with their name that can be refilled throughout the day.
  • Some schools may not have cafeteria food services or lunch programs (e.g. pizza day, sub day, etc.) at this time.
  • There may be new policies or protocols in place about leaving school during lunch or recess to purchase food.
  • Students may have to pack and bring home all garbage and waste.


Help you child understand they will need to:

  • Wash their hands before and after eating.
  • Sit down and stay seated while eating.
  • Remove their mask and store it in a paper bag or on a clean surface while not in use.
  • Eat from a clean surface (e.g. cleaned and sanitized table tops, an open lunch bag, on a clean tea towel, paper towel or placemat, etc.).
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, straws, containers or utensils with others.

COVID-19 School Guidance for Parents and Caregivers

School reopening plans

Check your school board’s website for their reopening plan, updated information about the plan, and answers to frequently asked questions.


Grand Erie District School Board

Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board

Outbreak management

On August 29, 2020 Ontario released a document outlining Operational Guidance: COVID-19 Management in Schools. Please review this document for details about what will happen if there is a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak at a school. Various scenarios and the dictated response are also outlined.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s goal is to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 and to keep children and school staff safe. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 in a school, HNHU will work in collaboration with the school to reduce the risk of COVID-19 by implementing some or all of the following measures:


  • Communicating regularly with the school
  • Reviewing and confirming important practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 including:

Screening children and staff for exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19

Staying home when sick

  • Cohorting (grouping and separation) students and staff
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • Using personal protective equipment when appropriate (e.g., masking)
  • Ensuring proper hand hygiene
  • Posting signage of appropriate public health measures (e.g., hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene)
  • Maintaining physical distancing
  • Doing a site visit to the school and provide further advice, when indicated
  • Providing recommendations on testing, as per provincial guidelines
  • Assessing whether school operations can continue and if any additional measures are needed
  • Identifying people who may have been in contact with the person(s) who tested positive for COVID-19
  • Contacting those affected directly to provide guidance
  • If school operations were interrupted as part of outbreak management, determining when operations can safely resume
  • Helping the school ensure important practices remain in place long term


Early detection and responding to outbreaks in schools is important to controlling the transmission of the virus in the community. Even before the pandemic the public health unit gave expert advice to schools for planning their management of outbreaks. The Health Unit has considerable experience helping schools when infectious diseases, such as measles, are detected and will use this experience when monitoring for potential cases and reacting if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in a school.

Role of public health

Girl putting on mask

Public health has been in contact with our school boards throughout the pandemic. HNHU supports the return to school following the directions and guidelines developed by the Ministry of Health and is committed to providing ongoing support to schools as they re-open by:

  • consulting on infection prevention and control measures and policies
  • providing public health nurses to work with schools
  • providing health-related COVID-19 information and resources
  • advising and supporting administration on probable and confirmed cases of COVID-19
  • working with and directing administration, should an outbreak occur, around:
    • enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures
    • additional testing or self-isolation for close contacts (i.e. staff/students), if required
    • determining if additional protocols should be in place

COVID-19 resources for schools and parents