Ensuring a Safe Return to In-Person Learning for Mississauga Students

Published on January 15, 2022

Ontario Launching School-based Vaccine Clinics and Deploying Rapid Tests as Mississauga Students Return to In-Person Learning

In-person learning is critical for the mental health, development, and academic achievement of children in Mississauga, and across Ontario. Parents, educators and children have all demonstrated incredible resilience and adaptability since the start of the pandemic, but our kids deserve to be in school, where they can learn alongside their friends and teachers. That’s why elementary and secondary students across Ontario are returning to in-person learning on January 17.

The return to in-person learning is supported by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Children’s Health Coalition. It is supported by more than $1.6 billion in resources to protect against COVID-19, including money for mental health, improved ventilation in classrooms, technology and the hiring of over 2,350 additional staff.

Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, recently announced additional enhanced measures, such as the provision of millions of rapid antigen tests for symptomatic students and staff in public elementary and secondary schools, along with children and staff in child care settings, as well as the launch of a province-wide vaccine campaign within schools to increase uptake.

Vaccines remain our best defence, and vaccination rates among children 12 to 17 are encouraging, with more than 82 per cent having received two doses, while nearly 50 per cent of children aged 5-11 have received their first dose. To better support access to vaccines for students and staff, we are launching school-based clinics that can help more Ontarians get vaccinated.

Our plan for improving access to vaccines and providing more rapid antigen tests builds on the other layers of protection we have put in place for schools, including:

  • Providing access to more than 10 million non-fit-tested N95 masks to all education and child care staff, along with more than four million three-ply cloth masks for students;
  • Improving ventilation by deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to learning environments, building on the more than 70,000 HEPA filter units and other ventilation devices that have already been provided, and the $600 million we have invested in ventilation improvement measures and mechanical ventilation upgrades;
  • Updating and tightening screening requirements for students and staff;
  • Introducing new time-limited cohorting protocols to limit direct and indirect contacts in schools, and enhancing cleaning requirements; and
  • Delivering resources to hire additional staff, including educators, custodians and mental health workers, in addition to access to retired educators.

Ontario is the only province that is delivering N95 masks to its educators. We are going above and beyond the health and safety expectations of other provinces so that we can keep kids learning in-person and help limit the spread of COVID-19.

These investments are delivering real results here in Mississauga. For local families, our government has provided the Peel District School Board with $78.6 million in COVID-19 resources and $31.2 million for ventilation improvements. Supports include $20.5 million to hire additional staff, and 2,534 HEPA units in schools (including 138 delivered in January 2022), 898,400 non-fit-tested N95s for educators, 349,810 cloth masks for students, and 270,974 rapid antigen tests for symptomatic students and staff.

Installing HEPA filters at Fernforest Public School with the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and MPPs Sheref Sabawy and Deepak Anand.

Additionally, our government has provided the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board with $39.5 million in COVID-19 resources and $17.7 million for ventilation improvements. We have provided $10.4 million to hire additional staff and thanks to our investments, the board now has 1,808 HEPA units in schools (including 84 delivered in January 2022), 672,000 non-fit-tested N95s for educators, and 116,508 rapid antigen tests for symptomatic students and staff.

Thanks to our government’s investments, every kindergarten class has a HEPA unit within it. We have also ensured that for schools that do not have a mechanical ventilation system that all classrooms and learning spaces have a stand-alone HEPA unit. All mechanical ventilation systems within publicly funded schools have been assessed and ventilation improvement measures taken — deploying the highest quality filters (often MERV-13), along with increasing fresh air intake, running HVAC systems two hours before and after school, and changing filters more frequently. All school boards have publicly posted standardized ventilation measure reports with this information.

Mississauga's children and youth deserve the opportunity to finish out their school year with their peers and educators, and our government is taking action to ensure they receive that opportunity. Kids belong in school.

Rudy Cuzzetto is the MPP for Mississauga-Lakeshore.