TORONTO — RCMP officers, custodial and clerical education workers and postal staff are among the expanded list of essential workers cleared to receive free child-care while thousands of Ontario students attend school remotely in the coming weeks, the province’s education minister announced Saturday.
Stephen Lecce unveiled the expanded list during a rare weekend news conference, days after announcing online classes would continue for southern Ontario students until at least Jan. 25 amid an ongoing surge in COVID-19 case cases.
“Expanding this will allow us to responsibly build up and enable more workers to receive free childcare during this difficult time while these individuals have to physically go into work,” said Lecce told the news conference.
Earlier this week, the province announced schools across southern Ontario would not be returning to in-person classes on Monday as planned, but would instead continue attending classes remotely until at least Jan. 25.
In-class learning will resume on Monday in the northern half of the province, where positivity rates for the novel coronavirus are comparatively low.
The decision to keep students out of classrooms was prompted by soaring case numbers that have seen Ontario record more than 3,000 new infections per day for weeks. Premier Doug Ford said Friday that projections slated to come out next week will be shocking and likely lead to further restrictions.
Lecce, who also described the projections as alarming, said the figures included troubling new data about COVID-19 transmission rates among the province’s younger residents. He said the data revealed a 170 per cent spike in cases for young people between Dec. 27 and Jan. 3.
“That’s concerning for any objective mind that sees that,” said Lecce. “The trend is problematic and we have to take this seriously.”
Lecce said childcare will now be available for all education workers who are required to attend school in-person to support students who cannot learn remotely. That group includes teachers, administrators and custodial staff, he added.
Their inclusion came as good news to Laura Walton, the president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, who had been calling for a broader array of education workers to receive access to child-care during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walton said she’s glad to see the oversight corrected, but said concerns remain.
“There is also a large amount of educators as well as workers in the province who remain in a position of juggling full time work with full time virtual learning for their children,” Walton said in a statement.
“It is clear there is more to be done, and soon, to ensure that our staff and students are safe tomorrow, and in the future”
NDP education critic Marit Stiles and NDP Child Care critic Doly Begum issued a statement asking for a more firm back-to-school plan.
“It’s desperately frustrating for parents that Stephen Lecce got in front of the cameras, and didn’t announce a single measure to make schools safe to re-open,” the statement read. “This government doesn’t want to invest in schools, and that’s putting our kids health and their education at risk.”
The expanded list names employees of the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency among those now cleared for provincially supported child-care, along with employees of Canada Post.
Other eligible workers include court services staff, power workers and those providing services to the homeless and women facing violence.
Ontario residents working in victims services, providing frontline services with children’s aid societies or intervenor services for the deaf and deafblind are also among those on the list.
Lecce’s announcement came as Ontario extended its track record of reporting the highest daily COVID-19 case tallies in the country.
The province recorded 3,443 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, along with 40 related deaths.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 1,070 of the latest new cases were in Toronto, 548 in Peel Region, and 303 in York Region.
She also said more than 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across the province.