OTTAWA -- Students with Ottawa’s largest school board returned to class on Thursday, but many parents faced the problem of being unable to screen their children for COVID-19 online on their first day.

The Ottawa Public Health-run website crashed on Thursday, and while many hope for a full year in class, some school boards have already reported new COVID-19 cases.

Children spilled into classrooms across the capital, excited for the year ahead, especially as the previous year was cut short in April when the pandemic forced online learning.

Many diligent parents of the nearly 70, 000 students who were heading back to school logged on to the Ottawa Public Health website to complete the screening questionnaire only to find the page would not load. 

The nine-question form, which has a symptom checker and asks about close contacts, recent travel and vaccination status, has since come back from its crash and had no problems on Friday.

Schools will provide paper copies as well, and while the Ministry of Education has made the daily checklist mandatory, the identity of the individual students are not tracked. It’s more of an honour system.

OPH COVID School Support manager Marino Francispillai says the daily screening is an important part of prevention and an opportunity for parents and children to think-twice.

“It’s also the same thing we’ve always said pre-COVID; when a child isn’t feeling well you don’t want to send them to school,” says Francispillai. “It’s really about taking that sober moment to assess and say ‘Okay, this is not a day when my child should go to school.’”

Sahar Younis says she plans to screen each day when her son heads into kindergarten next week.

“If it’s preventing some of the cases then yeah, why not use it?” says Younis, adding that she is aware of a reality. “Children might be a-symptomatic and cases are going to happen.”

After completing their first week of school, the Conseil Des Ecoles Catholique du Centre-Est, reports as of Sept. 8, there are six active cases across its 58 schools, adding that they are isolated cases and no schools have closed.

The CECCE says that individual student isolation periods vary by case and if a person gets tested, can last up to ten days. Parents with that board can track developing cases on their website.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore remains firm in his belief that the provincial COVID-19 polices are effective.

“Students get the infection 87 per cent of the time in their social setting,” says Moore, adding that infections from school are at about seven per cent. “Our schools are safe. We have some of the best protocols in the world to protect our students.”

But many school boards continue to look at pushing the policies further. Last week, trustees with the OCDSB voted in favour of mandating vaccination for all staff and volunteers in school. The Ottawa Catholic School Board is calling for a provincewide mandatory vaccine policy.

“Let’s just do our part and the schools are going to do their part,” says Younis, “So we don’t have to close down and then go back to online then go close again, then go back in person.”