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COVID-19: Ontario education minister says April break to go ahead as planned for now

Click to play video: 'Growing concerns about in-class learning as COVID-19 infections close schools across Ontario' Growing concerns about in-class learning as COVID-19 infections close schools across Ontario
WATCH ABOVE: Close to 60 schools in Ontario are now temporarily closed because of rising COVID-19 cases but despite calls to close schools and switch to virtual learning, the Education Minister says the plan is to keep schools open. Marianne Dimain reports – Mar 30, 2021

TORONTO — Spring break for Ontario’s schools will go ahead as planned next month, at least for now, the education minister said Tuesday, drawing criticism for not providing enough clarity on the matter.

Stephen Lecce said the government will let families know if recommendations from the province’s top doctor necessitate a change to the break scheduled for the week of April 12.

“When it comes to April break, we plan to proceed,” Lecce said in the legislature.

“If anything changes, given the day-to-day change and fluctuations of the COVID-19 numbers in Ontario, we’ll make sure all families know that well in advance.”

Read more: COVID-19: ‘Every indication’ schools will remain open, Ontario education minister says

The province decided earlier this year to delay the March break until April in an effort to curb COVID-19 cases, saying it wanted to discourage group gatherings and travel over that time.

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With infections now rising in the province once more, questions had been raised about whether the government might alter spring break once again.

Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he couldn’t give a direct answer on whether the break would be postponed or altered.

“To be very frank, I don’t want to predict two weeks out,” Ford said Monday.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Ontario education minister says no plans to close schools again' COVID-19: Ontario education minister says no plans to close schools again
COVID-19: Ontario education minister says no plans to close schools again – Mar 29, 2021

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the government needs to give families and teachers a clear answer.

“The ongoing uncertainty around our education system is problematic. It’s not what kids and students and teachers and parents need right now,” she said Tuesday.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, was critical of the idea of postponing or cancelling spring break.

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He said that the government’s failure to contain the spread of COVID-19 has led to the possibility of another postponement even though teachers need the break for their mental health.

“If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during the break, these should be addressed by the government through other means than cancelling the break,” said Hammond in a statement.

“They can introduce community safety protocols, and allow students, education workers and families, who’ve been under tremendous pressure throughout the pandemic, to have their much-needed break.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board asked principals on Monday to be prepared for the possibility that students may not return to in-person learning after spring break.

“(It) was reiterating what we’ve said since the beginning of the school year _ that we need to be prepared if individual classes or schools need to close as a result of COVID,” spokesman Ryan Bird said of the memo sent to principals.

“It’s not that we have any new information, but given the circumstances, we just wanted to remind our schools.”

Read more: COVID-19: New variants having ‘substantial impact’ on Ontario’s health care system, report says

Lecce did not discuss the prospect of moving learning online following spring break on Tuesday but said the government is planning to step up safety protocols when students and staff return to in-class learning on April 19.

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He said that plan will be announced in the coming days.

“We’re committed to expanding testing as well as stronger screening protocols before a student and a potential case enters a school,” he said. “We appreciate the challenge that this pandemic has imposed to working parents.”

Later Tuesday, Ford said the government was considering additional restrictions to combat a recent surge in COVID-19.

The premier did not specify what new measures his government was contemplating but said he will consult the province’s top doctor before making a decision.

Ontario reported 2,336 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 14 more deaths from the virus.

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