Frequently Asked Questions

No, you do not have to send your child to in-person school in September. For both elementary and secondary students, in-person school attendance is optional for the 2020-2021 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 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.

The Ministry of Education has advised that elementary school children will attend school 5 days per week. If you do not choose the remote learning option, your child will attend every day. If you choose the remote option, your child will not attend school in person.

For secondary students, the Ministry of Education has advised that about 70% of secondary students will begin the 2020-2021 school year with a combination of in-school and remote learning days. Students will be scheduled to attend class in-person for at least 50% of instructional days. Students will be assigned curriculum-linked work on remote learning days and, where possible, will participate in real time learning with their teacher and classmates. Currently, there is no option for secondary students to attend school in person every day.

Check with your local school board for more detailed information on how secondary school programming is being structured.

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.

The expectations for students attending school remotely will be different for the 2020-2021 school year than they were during the school closures during the spring of 2020. Students will be expected to complete and submit their work and will be graded accordingly.

The consequences of students not submitting assignments will depend, as always, on the student’s grade, Board policy and factors unique to the individual student.

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.

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 Project

If your child is in elementary school, you should check your local school board’s website to determine if you have taken the required steps to ensure that your child is registered for in-person education. If you have registered your child for in-person education, you should drop your elementary student at school five days a week.

Unless your child is disciplined and required to stay home, or the principal of the school appropriately exercises their power under the Education Act to exclude your child from school to ensure the safety of others, your child will not be required to learn from home unless you have opted for remote learning.

Schools are required to take a number of steps to protect students and staff from the virus. These include:

(1) 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.
(2) Adapted school environments

The Ministry has advised that schools should have:

  • 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

Schools and boards in Ontario will also be supported by up to 500 new nurses in public health units, phased in to assist with local health protocols.

(3) Hand hygiene

The Ministry of Education has advised that schools should:

  • train students on appropriate hand hygiene
  • schedule breaks to allow students to wash their hands
  • make hand sanitizer available in bathrooms

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.

The Ministry of Education has advised that students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear non-medical or cloth masks indoors in school, including in hallways and during classes. Students in kindergarten to Grade 3 will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks in indoor spaces.

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 (including requiring all students in all grades to wear masks), so parents and students should refer to their school board’s website or information from their school for specific requirements at their school.

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.

The Ministry of Education has advised that schools will be required to keep records of:

  • classes
  • 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) 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.

The Ministry of Education has directed parents, guardians or school staff with symptoms to use the online self-assessment tool and follow the instructions given by the tool.

The Ministry has also advised that, if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, they must self-isolate for 14 days and cannot return to school until they are cleared by public health.

It is also expected that others who have had close contact with the individual may have to isolate. Whether the entire class or entire school will be shut down will depend on the situation.

There is expected to be additional screening when an individual who has been ill returns to school.

Individual school boards are currently in the process of developing 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.

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 Project to discuss the situation and your child’s rights and options.

The Ministry of Education has advised that for both elementary and secondary school students, in-person school attendance will be optional for the 2020-2021 school year.

It is too early to answer this question for the 2021-2022 school year or beyond.

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 Project.

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.

Where internet access is unavailable or limited, the Ministry has advised that school boards should consider opening schools to students on a supervised study hall basis even when full school operations are not possible. Public health advice would be required to implement this.

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 in its Returning to School Plan for Elementary Students 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.

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 in its Returning to School Plan for Elementary Students 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 by the student’s home school through the Principal.

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.

If you continue to have concerns that are not being adequately addressed by the staff at your child’s remote school, please consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Project to discuss your child’s legal rights and options for next steps.

Schools are significantly limiting or even prohibiting visitors, including parents, given the risks associated with COVID-19.

While the practices across schools will be slightly different, it is anticipated that all teacher/principal/parent meetings will be held online.

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.

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 with the return to school 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 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) will 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 Education Law Project.

Yes, schools are still required to provide Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students identified as requiring an IEP.

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.

Most school boards are developing and posting information about special education issues in the context of the unique return to school plans for this September. Please check with your school board for more information, or consider contacting Pro Bono Ontario’s Education Law Project for more specific advice and assistance.

Identification, Placement Review Committee (IPRC) meetings and IPRC reviews will continue to take place, but will be held virtually.

Contact your school for more information if you have not received notice regarding an anticipated IPRC.

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 Project.

Certain additional funding for social workers and psychologists to support students as classes resume this September has been announced.

Your child should still have access to a social worker if such assistance was indicated and/or provided prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board’s obligation to accommodate children up to the point of undue hardship remains.

Your child should still have access to occupational therapy or physiotherapy if such assistance was indicated or and/or provided prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board’s obligation to accommodate children up to the point of undue hardship remains.

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 set prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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.

Currently, all elementary school children will attend school 5 days a week unless they choose the remote learning option. No distance learning is anticipated unless the remote option is chosen, so daycare during the instructional day will not be required.

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 Project page.