The Ontario government has announced students in the southern regions of the province will continue with online learning until Jan. 25 due to “increasing community transmission” of coronavirus.
According to a statement released Thursday afternoon, students in seven northern Ontario public health unit areas will be allowed to return to school on Monday even though a shutdown for those same regions will be extended by a further two weeks to line up with restrictions in southern Ontario.
“Returning students to school now with community transmission and positivity rates so high risks losing the hard-fought progress made in keeping schools and students safe,” the statement said.
“These time-limited measures are being taken to help ensure that all Ontarians stay at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed while at the same time being responsive to the fact that northern Ontario students are not able to learn at home as effectively due to limited access to reliable internet service.”
All students in northern Ontario and elementary students in southern Ontario were put on virtual learning for the first week back from winter holidays, the week of Jan. 4. Those students were expected to return to in-person learning on Jan. 11.
High school students in southern Ontario are on virtual learning until Jan. 25 as previously outlined by the province.
Classes for students with special education needs has remained open for in-person learning.
“I will never, ever, ever, sacrifice our kids going back to school if the health table and the doctors are telling me not to do it,” Ford said at an unrelated event Thursday morning.
“Folks, there is proof in the pudding, before the Christmas holidays we saw positivity rates of three per cent. Now, the information I received as of late yesterday afternoon, that has jumped 116 per cent,” Ford said.
“As soon as we went through Christmas, everyone got together, we saw young children when they were going to get tested it is now at 20 per cent. So one in every five children under the age of 13, they’re testing positive.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 83,000 educators, issued a statement in response to the announcement. It said the “last-minute” decision will make it difficult for families and supports in-person learning.
“With COVID-19 numbers at an all-time high and the introduction of a new, more transmissible strain of the virus, our first priority must be to protect the health and safety of students and educators, and by extension, the communities in which we teach,” ETFO president Sam Hammond wrote.
“We will continue to press the government to provide funding to support all families, and to account for the child care needs of educators and other front-line workers.
“We also call on the government to take this extra time to immediately implement the necessary measures to ensure a safe return to in-person learning is possible.”
On Thursday, Ontario reported 3,519 new coronavirus cases and 89 more deaths, both figures marked single-day records ever recorded in the province since the pandemic began.