Schools will remain closed and students will continue with remote learning, the Ontario government said while announcing its reopening plan on Thursday.
Schools across Ontario have been closed since the delayed March Break which took place in April. Toronto, Peel and Guelph, however, had closed earlier due to increasing COVID-19 numbers.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams at Queen’s Park.
“Data will be assessed on an ongoing basis and medical experts, including the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and other health officials will be consulted to determine if it may be safe to resume in-person learning,” a release said Thursday.
Ford said there are differing opinions on the matter, pointing to Williams being in favour of reopening schools. However, the premier said some doctors on the science table are not in favour.
Ford also referenced the teachers’ unions possibly putting an injunction in place if they made the decision to go ahead and reopen.
Modelling numbers released earlier on Thursday indicated that if schools were to reopen on June 2, after the current stay-at-home order expires, that cases could jump anywhere between six to 11 per cent.
“I know a lot of parents are anxious,” Ford said. “There’s also the fact … that it could possibly increase cases by 11 per cent and that’s concerning to me … when it compounds so quickly.”
“Can we afford 11 per cent? I still want to get approval from all doctors.”
Ontario parents, critics and experts have been calling on resuming in-person learning due to the possibility of detrimental effects on students in regards to their mental health.
Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, co-chair for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, had previously said schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen.
A number of organizations released an open letter calling on the government to reopen schools shortly after the conclusion of the press conference on Thursday.
“The impact of school closures and the resulting social isolation on the health and well-being of children and youth has become impossible to ignore,” the letter read.
The letter requests schools to reopen immediately, for summer school to be in-person and for schools to resume in September with routine schedules.
“The benefits of a few weeks in classroom cannot be overstated.”
Researchers say the pandemic has had a profound effect on the mental health of children.
Dr. Daphne Korczak, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, says they launched a study in April to examine the effects of the pandemic on young people’s mental health.
They’ve surveyed more than 1,000 parents and 350 children during the first lockdown last spring and continue to monitor them.
“We found that roughly 70 per cent of children experienced deterioration of their mental health,” Korczak says.
“A significant proportion of kids have experienced increased depression, anxiety, irritability, and they’re just less able to buffer the day-to-day frustration, compared to their pre-pandemic self.”
Ford said he understands the concern and the anxiety for parents and that he would “love to get the kids back.”
He pointed out the vaccination plan for youth aged 12 to 17 and how the province is aiming to have all those who want a first dose to get one within the first 30 days of June.
“So that plays a factor into it, as well,” Ford said.
“But I’m not going to rush into this, let’s just see over the next little while … and then we’ll give certainty to the parents.”
—With files from The Canadian Press