Frequently Asked Questions
We are worried about the virus. Do I have to send my child to school in September?
While schools are expected to return to full-time in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, all school boards in the province are offering remote learning for all students who choose this option.
School boards may require students to pre-register for in-person or vistual attendance by a certain date. Check your local school board website to find out how to pre-register and to find out about online options. If you missed a deadline to sign-up for either option, we recommend contacting your school principal to discuss your situation and determing next steps.
If I decide to keep my child home, will this impact their grades?
The Ministry has indicated that students will be graded in the same way and evaluated on the basis of the same criteria, regardless of whether they attend school in-person or online.
What if a child has not been submitting assignments or attending virtual school? Can they be held back a grade?
The expectations for students attending school remotely will be no different for the 2021-2022 school year than they were during the school closures during 2020-2021 school year. Students will be expected to complete and submit their work and will be graded accordingly.
The consequences of students not submitting assignments or attending virtual school will depend, as always, on the circumstances, student’s grade, school board policy and any other factors unique to the individual student.
If schools are open, can the school refuse entry for my child?
Possibly, if the school principal concludes that allowing your child to attend school would in the principal’s judgement be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils. Whether the principal’s power to refuse admission to the school on this basis can be used in relation to COVID-19 has yet to be determined.
School boards and schools will be working closely with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and Public Health to monitor and respond to reports of COVID-19 symptoms.
If your child is being refused entry to school and you wish to discuss your options with a lawyer, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program
Should I drop my child off at school even if school says child must learn from home? What are my options?
It is important to determine why the school is telling you your child must learn from home. Until the situation is resolved, we do no recommend sending your child to school and putting them in the middle of a difficult and possibly contentious situation with school officials.
If you opted for virtual learning but would like to switch over to in-person, you must first wait until you hear from the school principal confirming in-person class placement.
If you believe your child is being told to stay home due to a special need accomodation, please contact Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program for assistance.
If your child is suspended, expelled or excluded from school, do not send them to school. School discipline measures can be appealed. Please review PBO’s overview on school discipline available here.
If your child has been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is showing symptoms of the virus, they may be required to stay home and follow local public health unit instructions regardfing testing and self-isolation.
Please don’t hesitate to contact the Education Law Program whould you have any questions regarding your child’s specific situation.
How are the schools legally obligated to protect my child from the virus?
Schools are required to take a number of steps to protect students and staff from the virus. These include: All publicly funded school employees must either provide proof of a full COVID vaccination or submit to regular Antigen testing. Please note, the vaccination status of specific school staff will not be made available to students or the public.
- Students, teachers and school staff must self-screen for symptoms of COVID-19 before leaving home.
- Students and staff who are unwell must stay home from school.
- Schools are required to make improvements to school ventilation systems where needed.
In addition, the Ministry has advised that schools should continue to implement measures to adapt school environments for safety, including:
- signs to reinforce self-screening, hand hygiene, distancing and one-way use of hallways
- signs in bathrooms
- hand sanitizer
- adjustments to entrance and exit practices
- adjustments to the use of playgrounds and school grounds
The Ministry of Education has advised that schools should also:
- ensure students in Grades 1 to 12 wear masks indoors, including in hallways, during classes and on school vehicles, except when consuming food and drink
- train students on appropriate hand hygiene
- schedule breaks to allow students to wash their hands
- make hand sanitizer available in key locations throughout the school
Please check with your local school board to learn more about the specific measures put in place at your child’s school to keep students safe and to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Can schools force children to wear masks or gloves?
The Ministry of Education has advised that students in Grades 1 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Students in kindergarten will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor spaces.
Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, school officials may need to accommodate certain students with health-related concerns waiving or modifying mask requirements. These students should be ready to provide proof of the need for this exemption. Contact your school principal for guidance regrding exemption protocols.
Teachers and other staff will be provided with medical masks and eye protection (for example, face shields). The Ministry advises that all school-based staff should wear masks, with reasonable exceptions for medical conditions.
Individual school boards may have more strict requirements regarding masks and other health and safety measures, so parents and students should refer to their school board’s website or information from their school for specific requirements at their school.
Can I sue the school if my child gets sick from the virus?
If your child gets sick from the virus, and you believe the school did not comply with Ministry of Education health and safety guidelines and did not meet the required standard of care in the circumstances, you should consult with a lawyer about whether there is any basis upon which you might make a claim against the school board.
However, as long as schools take the measures indicated by the Ministry of Education to help keep the school safe and help stop the spread of COVID-19, it may be difficult to establish liability on the part of the school.
If you are considering legal action against your child’s school, you may wish to contact Pro Bono Ontario’s Free Legal Advice Hotline at 1-855-255-7256, and select “Going to Court” to be connected with a lawyer who can advise on how to start a claim.
How will the schools contact-trace if a student gets sick?
The Ministry of Education has advised that schools will be required to keep records of:
- seating charts
- bus cohorts
- daily visitors who are approved to enter the school
Visitors might include supply teachers, occasional teachers and custodians.
Schools will maintain these records and the records will be readily available for public health for contact tracing purposes.
Schools must immediately report any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the school to the local public health unit. Schools must provide any materials (for example, daily attendance and transportation records, sibling information) to public health officials to support contact tracing and other activities in accordance with all applicable legislation, including the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Public health officials will determine any additional steps required, including but not limited to the declaration of an outbreak and closure of classes and/or schools.
Each day school boards must report suspected and confirmed cases within the school community to the Ministry.
If a student gets sick with the virus, will the entire school shutdown?
Whether the entire class or entire school will be shut down will depend on the situation and will be determined by the local public health unit. Fully vaccinated students and school staff will likely face little interruption to school or work if they come into contact with a high-risk carrier and have tested negative for the virus.
Regardless of whether the school shuts down, students who have been in close contact with the sick student (e.g. classmates) will be contacted by the local public health unit and given instructions on required testing and/or self-isolation. These requirements are based on province-wide protocols set by the Ministry of Health, but may vary from region to region, since local public health units can impose stricter requirements if local conditions require it.
Province-wide protocols for treatment of high-risk contacts in schools vary depending on vaccination status. Unvaccinated students will have to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of negative test results, even if they have no symptoms. Vaccinated students with no symptoms who test negative will generally be able to return to school, unless their local public health unit has imposed stricter requirements.
Regardless of vaccination status, if either student or staff test positive for COVID-19 they will need to self-isolate for at least 10 days and cannot return to school until advised by public health. Individual school boards have developed protocols for dealing with COVID-19 cases in the classroom/school and you should check with your local school board for details on this question.
Can the school insist I keep my child if they are not social distancing?
In general (pre-COVID), there are very limited circumstances in which a school principal has the power to exclude a student from school. These circumstances include where the exclusion is required to ensure the safety of others at the school. Whether this provision could be invoked by a principal to exclude a student from school because of COVID-related safety concerns is yet to be determined.
If your school has insisted that your child stay home from school, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program to discuss the situation and your child’s rights and options.
Is virtual learning here to stay? Even when COVID restrictions have lifted?
The Ministry of Education has advised that for both elementary and secondary school students, in-person school attendance will be optional for the 2021-2022 school year.
It is too early to answer this question for the 2022-2023 school year or beyond.
My child wants to learn virtually but I want them to return to school. What are my options?
This is a difficult issue. The most important thing, of course, is that you talk to your child to understand their reasoning for preferring remote learning over in-person learning and to explain the reasons for your view.
Your options, and your child’s options, will be different depending on your child’s age and individual circumstances. If you are in this situation, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program.
We don’t have access to the internet or have a computer at home. If we decided to learn virtually, will the school provide a computer and internet service? What happens if my unvaccinated child must temporarily stay home due to coming into contact with a high-risk carrier and they need a computer at home?
The Ministry of Education has advised school boards to assess whether there are students who need access to a device or internet and take steps to distribute school resources to ensure that students can stay connected, wherever possible, to learning. School boards should also make sure that students with disabilities have access to accessible online learning.
Specifics on this issue will vary by school board and you should check with your school or school board for details.
The Toronto District School Board, for example, has said that every student in the Virtual School will be required to have a device. For those without access to a device, access will be arranged through the student’s home school through the principal.
What happens if we break the computer provided to us from the School Board?
Specifics on this issue will vary by school board and the circumstances of your situation. As a first step, you should check with your school or school board for guidance. If you are unable to pay for a school computer that is broken in your home, please feel free to contact PBO’s Education Law Program.
If in-person schools are closed again at any point this year, are there any steps I can take if I have concerns regarding the special education supports my child receives?
As always, with any concerns that arise with your child’s education or the supports your child is receiving, you should first discuss your concern with your child’s teacher. This applies equally in the remote learning environment. If you do not receive a satisfactory response to your concerns, your next step is to raise the issue with the principal of your child’s school. While all school boards will structure things a bit differently, there is likely to be a principal-like position for each online or remote learning program.
Will meetings between parents and the teacher/principal be online or in-school? Can I insist we have meetings/discussion online or over the phone? What if I want an in-person meeting?
Depending on public health recommendations in your community, the practices across schools may vary. Children under 12 years old are still ineligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. In order to protect these vulnerable students, many schools will continue to limit visitors, including parents.
We are a newcomer family. Can the school refuse enrollment because of COVID? Will we have access to ESL classes?
No, the school cannot refuse enrollment to students from newcomer families because of COVID-19.
However, if you have just arrived from abroad, the school can require that you comply with applicable laws regarding self-isolation upon return from travel. In addition, you are encouraged to contact your local school as soon as possible, as schools have implemented new registration procedures for this year in an effort to minimize class sizes to allow for appropriate social distancing.
Contact your local school or school board for more information, including information about the availability of ESL classes.
Will my child still have access to special education support regardless of whether they are at school or learning remotely?
The school’s duty to accommodate the needs of students with special needs has not changed given COVID-19.
With that said, there is no “across the board” formula for accommodation and each student’s needs are unique.
Your child’s school board is still required to undertake a reasonable investigation to understand your child’s needs and must explore options to provide any necessary accommodations to the point of undue hardship.
With all of the moving pieces associated withschool this September, and shifting availability of resources, there may be more uncertainty and/or delay than usual in establishing appropriate supports for students with special needs.
If your child is attending school in person, your child will continue to have Educational Assistant (EA) support as part of their Individual Education Plan (IEP) at school.
If your child has special needs and is attending virtual school, the school board is required to continue to support your child in alignment with their IEP and Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) placement decisions, whether that be regular class or special education class.
Classroom teachers and special education teachers (e.g., Resource teachers, HSP teachers) should work in collaboration to support students and provide accommodations, modifications and/or alternative programming as needed.
Specific plans to accommodate students with special needs attending virtual school will vary by school board, and you should consult your school board’s website or contact your school/school board to find out more.
If you have questions about your child’s situation and the extent of the obligations that your child’s school board has to provide accommodation for your child, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s.
Will the schools still provide IEPs for students?
Yes, schools are still required to provide Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students identified as requiring an IEP.
Should in-person schools close again at any point this year, how will schools implement IEP’s for a mix of in-school/remote learning?
This is a difficult question to answer in the abstract because the answer will vary considerably depending on the student, the student’s needs, the content of the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) and by school board.
Many school boards have developed and posted updated information about special education issues in the context of school plans for this September. Please check with your school board for more information, or consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program for more specific advice and assistance.
What about IPRC and IPRC reviews?
Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) meetings and IPRC reviews will continue to take place, but will be held virtually. whether they take place online or in-person will depend on current public health recommendations in your community.
Contact your school for more information if you have not received notice regarding an anticipated IPRC.
My child uses a wheelchair. Will they be allowed to return to school given the risks of the Delta variant? Is the school obligated to keep chair surfaces disinfected while my child is at school?
Yes, your child will be allowed to return to school if your child uses a wheelchair. You should research the specific public health protocols in place at your child’s school to disinfect services, such as your child’s wheelchair. If there are no current plans to keep chair services disinfected while your child is at school, you should request that the school do so on a regular basis.
If you do not get a positive response to such a request from your child’s school, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program.
Will my child have access to a social worker?
Your child should still have access to a social worker if such assistance was indicated and/or previously provided.
Your child should continue to have access to a social worker if such assistance was indicated and/or previously provided.
The school board’s obligation to accommodate children up to the point of undue hardship remains.
Will my child have access to occupational therapy or physiotherapy at school?
Your child should still have access to occupational therapy or physiotherapy if such assistance was indicated and/or previously provided.
The school board’s obligation to accommodate children up to the point of undue hardship remains.
We use school daycare. Will daycares enforce social distancing?
The Ministry of Education has advised that before-school and after-school programs are permitted to operate with staff-to-child ratios and maximum group size requirements.
Child care centres are required to take additional health and safety measures including additional cleaning, screening of children, keeping attendance records for contract tracing, requiring frequent handwashing, and establishing safety protocols in the event a staff member or child becomes ill.
Check with your daycare to obtain more information about the specific steps they plan to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including enforcing social distancing requirements.
Will a PBO volunteer still help me with special education issues and/or discipline issues?
Absolutely. Our dedicated roster of PBO volunteer lawyers remain available to assist with special education and/or discipline issues. To learn more please see Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Program page.