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Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health
elementary students in class wearing face masks

Back to School Planning: Guidance for Parents, Guardians and Caregivers

If are you looking for general information about COVID-19, please visit our main COVID-19 web page. The content below is for parents and guardians supporting the return of their children to school.

As the school year gets underway, students are adjusting to many different protocols. Modelling healthy behaviours at home and talking to your children about new processes will help them adjust to changes in the school environment. You can also visit and download the COVID-19 Parents’ Guide 2020-2021 School Year for helpful tips and suggestions.

Most importantly, parents/caregivers are required to screen their child daily before they attend school.

How do I screen my child?

Positive Case or School Outbreak

Review the following documents to learn about the protocols in place should a student or staff member test positive for COVID-19 or a school COVID-19 outbreak is declared by HPEPH.

What other precautions should I take as a parent/caregiver?

Keep as much distance as possible between you and others (2 metres is best):

  • During drop-off and pick-up.
  • 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 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 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 your child rides a bus, face coverings while on the bus are mandatory for students Grades 4-12 and strongly encouraged for students grades K-3. Remind your child about the importance of following bus rules, including assigned seating and physical distancing, if possible.
  • 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.

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What else can I do to help my child feel prepared and stay healthy?

  • Make sure your child is up-to-date with all recommended childhood vaccines. All school-age children should get an influenza (flu) vaccine every season, unless otherwise directed by a health care provider. This is especially important this year because we do not yet know if being sick with COVID-19 at the same time as the flu will result in more severe illness. If you do not have a health care provider, please contact HPEPH’s Immunization line at 613-966-5500 / 1-800-267-2803 ext. 221 to make an appointment.
  • Practise proper hand washing techniques at home, especially before and after eating, and after sneezing, coughing, and adjusting a face cover. Make hand washing fun by singing a song that lasts at least 20 seconds and explain to your child why hand washing is important.
  • Practise putting on and taking off a face covering safely with your child.
  • Plan daily routines for before and after school. Make a list of what to pack for school in the morning (e.g. hand sanitizer, an extra face covering, snacks and lunch, and a personal water bottle) and what to do when your child returns home from school (e.g. wash hands immediately, put face coverings in the laundry, etc.).
  • Talk to your child about some of the new measures that are in place, and how they can help keep your child healthy and safe:

For more answers to common questions about the 2020-2021 school year, please check out the Questions and Answers below.


Frequently Asked Questions

What if my child develops symptoms at school, including before/after school care affiliated with the school?

  • Parents will be notified to immediately pick-up their child.
  • The sick child will be isolated and cared for in a room until parent/guardian arrives.
  • Staff attending to the sick child will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.
  • The Principal will coordinate cleaning and disinfection of the space and items used by the child.
  • Parents should refer to the document “My Child/Student Did Not Pass COVID-19 Screening – What Do I Do?
  • If the child is ill, has no known exposure to someone with COVID-19, has not travelled out of country, and a Health Care Provider has diagnosed them with an illness that is not COVID-19 (e.g. ear infection), the student can return to school 24 hours after their last symptom has resolved. If the child has GI symptoms (eg. vomiting/diarrhea), they can return to school 48 hours after their last symptom has resolved.

What if my child requires testing for COVID-19 due to symptoms?

  • Visit your local assessment centre.
  • The child must stay in self-isolation while waiting for test results. They can not attend school in person.
  • Siblings of a symptomatic child may be required to self-isolate while waiting for the test result.
  • If the ill student is waiting for test results, household members (family and roommates who live with the ill person) should monitor for symptoms and be tested if symptoms develop. They are not required to isolate at this time.
  • Follow advice from the Assessment Centre and HPE Public Health.
  • If COVID-19 testing is advised, but not completed, the child and household contacts are required to isolate for 14 days from their symptom onset.

What happens when my child tests negative for COVID-19?

  • If the child’s test result is negative, and they are not a contact of someone who has tested positive, and have not travelled out of country, they can return to school 24 hours after their  symptoms begin to resolve. If the child has GI symptoms (e.g. vomiting/diarrhea), they can return to school 48 hours after their last symptom has resolved.
  • Children who are a contact of a positive case or have travelled out of country must isolate for a full 14 days, even with a negative result. This is because illness can occur up to 14 days after an exposure to COVID-19. These children and their families will be followed by HPE Public Health.

What happens if my child tests positive for COVID-19?

  • Review the School Protocol When Staff or Students Test Positive for COVID-19.
  • If a child tests positive, the family will receive guidance and daily follow-up from HPE Public Health.
  • The child and household contacts will need to self-isolate for 14 days and until symptom-free for 24 hours.
  • Public Health will work with your child’s school to follow Provincial Outbreak Guidelines.
  • All students, staff and social contacts determined to be at high risk of exposure will be directed to self-isolate for 14 days and follow Public Health guidance regarding testing.
  • Classroom cohorts will generally be considered as high risk contacts.
  • Confidentiality will be maintained by HPEPH and schools as necessary protocols are followed.

What if a parent/member of the house tests positive for COVID-19?

  • It is recommended that parents inform the school, but it is not an obligation.
  • Public Health is required to provide direction to the schools to isolate the household members while maintaining confidentiality.
  • Schools will isolate the child/children from the affected household, notify the parent (if necessary) and coordinate immediate pick-up.

What if my child has an ongoing medical condition that mimics COVID-19 symptoms?

Some medical conditions, like allergies, are predictable and the symptoms do mimic COVID-19. Refer to the document “My Child/Student Did Not Pass COVID-19 Screening – What Do I Do?

How can parents can take an active role in preventing and controlling the spread of COVID-19?

  • Follow prevention measures outlined by HPE Public Health.
  • Actively monitor your family for symptoms.
  • Communicate openly with your child’s school.
  • Stay local and avoid potential exposures with people from areas where COVID-19 cases are high.
  • Follow Public Health guidance, allowing that it may change depending on transmission in our community, or other factors, which will be carefully considered.

Is my child allowed to wear one mask for the entire day and what is the recommended number of masks?

Your child is allowed to wear one non-medical mask/ face covering for the entire day. However, if the non-medical mask/ face covering becomes soiled with a cough or sneeze or if it becomes wet or soiled in any other way, it should be changed. Consider sending a back-up mask with your child, in case one is soiled during the school day.

To learn more about cleaning and washing face coverings, please visit Health Canada’s web page.

What steps can children take to put on, take off and store their mask at school?

Here are some steps children can take to put on a mask:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before touching the mask.
  • If none is available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Ensure hair is away from the face.
  • Place the face covering over the nose and mouth and secure to the head or ears with its ties or elastics.
  • Adjust if needed to ensure nose and mouth are fully covered.
  • The mask should fit snugly to the cheeks and there should not be any gaps.
  • Wash hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after adjusting your mask.

Steps to Take off a mask:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • If none is available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Remove the face covering by un-tying it or removing the loops from the ears.
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask when removing it.
  • Store the face covering in a paper bag, envelope, tupperware, or something that does not retain moisture if you will be wearing it again.
  • After removing the face covering, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

disposable mask can be re-used, so long as it is not damp, damaged or dirty and has been stored between uses as described above. At the end of a full day’s wear,  or if the disposable mask has become damp, dirty or damaged, it is best to throw out the mask. Discard used masks in a garbage bin lined with a plastic bag. After breaks, such as mealtimes, you can reuse a disposable mask if it still appears clean, dry, undamaged and you have stored it appropriately between uses. You can temporarily store disposable masks by using the same method as cloth masks.

How do I wash, re-use, and discard a cloth mask?

When taking off to reuse or discard a mask, follow these steps:

  • After washing your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, remove your mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears.
  • If your mask has a removable, single-use filter, make sure to remove and throw out the filter before machine or hand-washing your mask.
  • For machine washing, put the mask directly into the washing machine. If you need to store it, store in a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and throw out the bag after you have used it. If the bag is washable you can wash it with your mask. Wash your hands again with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling your mask.
  • You can wash the masks with other laundry using a hot water cycle.
  • For hand washing, use laundry detergent and water as hot as it is safe, wash, rinse and then dry thoroughly.
  • When discarding damaged or worn out masks, drop them in a lined garbage bin.
  • Do not leave any discarded masks in places where others can come in contact with them, such as shopping carts, public seats, bus stops or on the ground.
  • Cloth masks can be re-used throughout the day if not soiled and undamaged. With clean hands, remove the mask from your face and fold it in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated outer surface is not contacting anything during storage) and place it in a clean, sealable bag until ready to use it again the same day. Do not leave a mask that has absorbed moisture from your breath in a non-breathable bag or container for more than an hour or so.
  • Disposable masks should not be washed, reused or recycled.

For more information on cleaning and re-using a mask, please visit Health Canada’s web page.

Is anyone exempt from wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask is mandatory for all students in grades 4-12 in all school boards. Check with your school/school board for specific requirements for wearing a mask, as it may be a requirement in other grades as well. The following students are possibly exempt from the requirements of wearing a face covering while inside:

  • The student is in Kindergarten to Grade 3.
  • The student has a medical condition rendering them unable to wear a non-medical mask or face covering safely.
  • The student cannot apply or remove a non-medical mask or face covering without assistance.
  • The student cannot wear a non-medical mask or face covering or cannot cover their face in a way that would appropriately control the source of droplets for reasons of religion or other protections under the Ontario Human Rights Code, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 19, as amended.

If your child is unable to wear a mask, please speak to the School Principal and/or teacher about your child’s exemption.

Is face shield considered to be an appropriate face covering?

Face shields are not equivalent to non-medical masks for source protection and are best suited to be used in addition to a non-medical mask, but not alone. Any non-medical mask that covers the mouth and nose, ensuring a barrier that limits the community transmission, would be appropriate.

Should I label my child’s face covering?

Personal items being brought to school (e.g. backpack, clothing, sun protection, water bottles, food, face coverings) should be labelled with your child’s name.

What else can I do to support my child as they return to school?

HPEPH recognizes that parenting can be stressful, especially in uncertain times. As your children return to school, do what you can to be well, stay positive, and keep connected.

  • Be well: Try to include physical activity, healthy eating and adequate sleep into your family’s daily routine. Create an environment that has predictable routines, and that is safe for your child to explore, play and learn. Remind your child about hand hygiene and cough and sneeze etiquette, to prepare for their return to school.

  • Stay Positive: Parents – pause, reflect, be gentle with yourself and your children. Encourage your children to recognize and talk about their emotions. Be a positive role model by teaching healthy coping strategies.

  • Keep Connected: Take time everyday to work on building a strong loving relationship with your child and family members. Keep connected with supports at home, in the community, and in the educational community.

For more information, visit our resilience web page where you will find 10 ways parents can help children and youth build resilience to help them cope with challenging situations.

My child is having a hard time adjusting to the new routines at school. How can I help them feel at ease?

  • Have an open conversation about what it is that’s worrying them, encourage them to ask questions, and reassure them that they are safe. Listen to your child and let them know you are there when they need you.
  • Let them know that schools are putting in place many new processes that will help them stay safe. These include asking parent to keep students home if they are sick, staying apart as much as possible, more cleaning, washing hands and using masks.
  • Let your child know that it is normal to have feelings of stress or anxiety and that it’s okay to express their feelings and talk about them.
  • Remind children about the positives – that they will be able to see their friends and educators (if they are physically returning to the classroom) and continue learning new things.
  • Create before and after school routines with your child, such as preparing things to pack for school in the morning (e.g. lunch bag, reusable water bottle, face covering) and things to do when you return home (e.g. washing hands).

I have another question not listed on this web page. Who do I contact?

If you are not able to find answers to your questions on our website, or through the online school screening tool, please contact HPEPH’s COVID-19 information line by dialing 613-966-5500 or 1-800-267-2803.

The COVID-19 information line operates Monday to Friday (excluding statutory holidays) from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.

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We are working to respond to community needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are concerned about potential exposure to a positive case of COVID-19, please be reassured that any contacts of a confirmed case will be contacted directly and monitored by public health.

Low-risk and indirect contacts should self monitor for symptoms for 14 days from the time of potential exposure and seek testing if symptoms develop. Low risk contacts do not need to isolate unless symptoms develop, and can continue to attend school/work/daycare while monitoring for symptoms.

Please continue to visit our website for more information about our programs and services.