Students will be staying in remote learning indefinitely following the April Break as the province continues to see record breaking COVID-19 case and ICU numbers, the Ontario government says.
Ontario students were supposed to return to in-person learning after taking the week off for their delayed March Break.
Students in the hot spot regions of Peel, Toronto and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, were already moved to virtual learning the week before the break.
Peel Region moved its students online the Tuesday after Easter Monday, while Toronto and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph followed suit on Wednesday.
The government said the decision to reopen for in-person learning will be based on public health data.
“As soon as we get the go-ahead from Dr. Williams and his colleagues, we’ll make sure parents know with advance notice that they can plan for their kids to return to school,” Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement alongside Lecce, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health at Queen’s Park Monday afternoon.
“It’s a risk I won’t take,” Ford said about the decision. “No one wants their kids in school more than I do but with COVID spreading like wildfire … we simply can’t be too cautious right now.”
Lecce repeatedly reassured parents and Ontarians that the government was focused on keeping schools open, as recent as a letter sent to parents Sunday.
“During the provincial emergency brake and the provincial stay-at-home order, all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools will remain open for in-person learning with strict health and safety measures in place, except in those regions where local public health units have directed schools in their areas to pivot to remote learning,” Lecce wrote in the letter.
When asked about the letter on Monday, Lecce referred to it having been more about the “plan in place.”
“Today’s (Monday’s) announcement is about prevention. It is a proactive and sadly necessary precaution as we tackle the third wave of COVID-19,” Lecce said on Monday.
“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk.”
Childcare for non-school aged children will remain open, however, before and after school programs will be closed.
Lecce said free emergency child care for the school-aged children of eligible health care and frontline workers will be provided.
Premier Doug Ford issued a four-week stay-at-home order and declared a third state of emergency provincewide, which came into effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
On Monday, the province reported 4,401 new COVID-19 cases, the second highest single-day increase to date. There are currently 1,646 people hospitalized, with 619 patients in intensive care units — an all-time high, and 408 patients in the ICU on a ventilator.
The Ontario government has said repeatedly they want to keep schools open amid the third wave to help with students’ mental health.
Numerous health officials have said schools should be the last to close and the first to open.
In response to the announcement, Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca called for the firing of Lecce.
“Just yesterday, Minister Lecce wrote to parents telling them that all publicly funded schools would remain open after the April Break,” Del Duca said in a press release. “One day later, Doug Ford is closing them for weeks.
“The in-fighting between Doug Ford and his education minister is putting our children and education workers at risk, and Lecce should be fired for it.”