A Safe Return to School Includes H&PE
"Given the importance of physical activity to long-term health, the COVID-19 pandemic should not limit the amount of physical activity for children/youth" (Government of Canada, 2020, COVID-19 guidance for schools Kindergarten to Grade 12)
Going back to school is a time of excitement, a time to revisit routines and practices, and a time to identify new priorities. Thoughts and decisions often focus on what students need to be successful and the strategies to support their individual needs, interests and abilities.
This year, back to school will include many new routines and practices related to COVID-19. It will be more important than ever to plan holistically with a focus on the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of students, and the associated safety practices. Ophea’s COVID-19 Considerations for Physical Education released September 5th, 2020 provides safety considerations specific to COVID-19 to support a safe return to physical education (PE) for students.
Included in this Blog are five strategies to help school board leaders, principals, and teachers prioritize a safe return to Health and Physical Education (H&PE) and ideas to get started.
Acknowledge and Amplify the importance of H&PE
H&PE provides students with a unique opportunity to learn through and about physical activity and explore key health-related topics. “The knowledge and skills acquired in health education and physical education form an integrated whole that relates to the everyday experiences of students and provides them with the physical literacy and health literacy they need to lead healthy, active lives” (The Ontario curriculum grades 1-8: Health and physical education, p. 6). (The Ontario curriculum grades 9-12: Health and physical education, p. 6).
It is important to take time to acknowledge the important role H&PE can play in providing students with a balanced educational experience. H&PE provides opportunities for students to develop the skills and strategies that will contribute to their ability to make healthy decisions now and in the future and supports the development of physical and health literacy, mental health and well-being of students.
- Refer to Ophea’s COVID-19 Planning section for strategies specific to the H&PE curriculum.
- Including safe practices as a key component of each lesson will help to establish a culture of safety mindedness within the class and develop skills that can be used at home and in the community.
Be Safety informed and aware
It is important to be informed and aware of the safety requirements and considerations for H&PE. The Ontario Physical Activity Safety Standards in Education (OPASSE) represent the minimum standard for risk management practice in physical activity for school boards in Ontario and focus on safe practices in order to minimize the element of risk. OPASSE also includes a concussion protocol to help prevent and identify suspected concussions and manage a student’s safe return to learning and physical activity.
Ophea’s COVID-19 Considerations for Physical Education is meant to be a companion resource to OPASSE to provide enhanced safety considerations specific to COVID-19 and supports school boards/schools with maintaining the highest level of student safety during PE.
- Refer to Ophea’s Safety Criteria Guidelines, that uses the structure of the OPASSE sport/activity page, for COVID-19 related considerations.
- Review the OPASSE sport/activity pages and tools and resources to ensure you are up to date on safety requirements.
Connect with students early and often
Establishing and maintaining safe H&PE programs requires clear and ongoing discussion with students. Consider a student’s physical, emotional and social safety when planning your program. This includes a safe, inclusive and accepting environment for participation and discussion, and safe spaces to identify thoughts, feelings and concerns about returning to PE.
Include time for students to gain a better understanding of the ways they can take a more active role in their learning and safety, including safe practices related to COVID-19 (e.g., physical distancing, disinfecting equipment, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette).
- Refer to Ophea’s Planning Strategies for ideas on how to communicate, engage and encourage students to take a more active role in their safety.
- Discuss with students new safety processes and procedures, ask their input and provide opportunities to identify safety concerns (physical, as well as emotional and social).
Determine where to start
The start of the school year brings new ideas, processes and routines. Needs, abilities and interests of students as well as safety considerations related to facilities, clothing and footwear, equipment, supervision and special rules and/or instructions have always been key areas when planning a safe H&PE program.
An important starting point for H&PE for this year will be planning physical activities that meet the highest level of protective factors for COVID-19. Starting with these activities will allow for students to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to understand and apply them in class. The highest levels of protective factors include activities that: are done in the outdoors, maintain physical distancing, use no equipment or equipment that does not need to be shared, and focus on independent activities with teacher directed instruction.
- Refer to Ophea’s Protective Measures for activities with high, moderate and low protective factors and risk treatment strategies.
- Some activities may need to be modified in order to meet the highest protective measures. When school board direction/policies related to COVID-19 change so too can the protective measures.
Examine and establish new routines and practices
It is important to reflect on the current routines and practices used to determine the ways they meet students' needs and COVID -19 requirements. Working collaboratively at the school (administrators, teachers, students) will help to establish routines and practices that maintain a safe learning environment for students.
The establishment of new routines and practices (e.g., use of change rooms, use of and access to equipment and travelling to and from the H&PE spaces) will assist in the safe return to H&PE programs. It will be necessary to effectively communicate these changes and take the time to walk students through them to ensure they understand and can implement them successfully.
- Refer to Ophea’s Procedures and Processes section for routines and practices related to communication, planning activities, use of equipment.
- Develop routines and practices that meet school board policy and direction related to COVID-19 and that can be applied consistently across the school/department.