Ontario students will not be required to wear masks when they return to classrooms in the fall, the province confirms.

The Ministry of Education says mask usage will be optional and most COVID-19 protocols will remain unchanged from when the 2021-22 school year ended in the spring.

Masks will be provided to students and staff who want to keep wearing them and rapid antigen tests will also be made available to school boards.

“Our government’s Plan to Catch Up is designed to keep students in safe classrooms without disruption, which is why we followed the expert advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, as kids return to class this September,” reads a statement from Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

“Our government remains focused on providing students with a positive, safe, and normal school experience.”

The Ministry says the health protocols for the 2022-23 school year were developed after consulting medical experts, including the Children’s Health Coalition.

The province dropped the mask mandate for schools last March.

At the time, Dr. Kieran Moore recommended that those most vulnerable to COVID-19 “should continue to wear a mask in select settings, including those immunocompromised or medically fragile.”

Ontario’s Plan To Catch Up aims to get students ‘back on track’

The government’s Plan to Catch Up, announced last month, aims to put focus on getting students back to “the full return of clubs, sports, and extra curriculars.”

The province says it is also emphasizing skilled trades, and making education more practical by teaching youth about personal financial management, budgeting and financial planning.

“That starts with being in class, on time, with the full school experience coupled with historic mental health and tutoring supports,” says Lecce.

Students return to the classroom on Sep. 6.

With files from Michael Talbot