OTTAWA -- The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is preparing for in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year beginning in September, with physical distancing, mandatory masks and cohorting of students.

However, Ottawa's largest school board says there will be a virtual learning option for elementary and secondary students next school year.

Trustees received an update on preparations for the new school year with COVID-19 precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Associate Director Brett Reynolds told trustees the board is planning for the return of in-person learning.

"Virtual learning – where required still needs to be part of our pandemic response," said Reynolds.

Parents have until mid-March to decide whether to enrol their children in in-person or online learning for the 2021-22 school year.

"There is a need for a virtual learning option for some. For those whose personal health circumstances or family circumstances really deem a virtual learning option to be necessary," said Reynolds, citing possible safety and health reasons to continue with online learning."In some cases, it has proven to be a better learning option for some of our students."

The OCDSB will offer virtual learning, but not all programs will be offered virtually.

There will still be face masks, physical distancing and cohorting of students in schools next fall.

For secondary schools, Reynolds said the board continues to plan for a hybrid model that will see students cohorted into two groups, attending class and studying online.  The board will continue with the quadmester system, with students taking two classes per quadmester. 

"If circumstances do permit, as we approach the start of the school year or really anytime, we can bring those cohorts together and having students attending every day," said Reynolds. 

Elementary schools will continue with cohorting by classes to limit contacts.