TORONTO – The anticipation before Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s announcement on Wednesday was noticeable. And to many, he did not disappoint.
Lecce announced on Feb. 3 that schools in 13 public health regions, including Huron-Perth and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, will reopen on Monday, Feb. 8. Students in these regions have spent the past five weeks learning online.
Three regions – Toronto, York and Peel – will remain in online learning until Tuesday, Feb. 16.
The Ontario government initially announced one week of online learning (Jan. 4 to 11) as part of a province-wide lockdown that came into effect on Dec. 26.
The online learning period was extended to coincide with the province’s second COVID-19 emergency declaration and a stay-at-home order issued on Jan. 14.
“Ontario is ready to open our schools because it is safe,” said Lecce.
He later added, “As kids return to school, schools will be even safer.”
Before- and after-school programs will also be permitted to resume on Feb. 8 in regions where schools are open.
The education minister said health officials, including Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and all local medical officers of health across the province, were in “unanimous” support of reopening schools, and that all health units were consulted.
“Following the best medical advice, with the clear support of both Ontario’s and the local medical officers of health, we are reopening schools across the province knowing that we have taken additional steps and made additional investments to better protect our students and staff,” said Lecce.
“Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success.”
The province also re-announced the following increased health and safety measures for in-person learning:
- province-wide access, in consultation with the local public health unit, to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff;
- mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
- providing 3.5 million high-quality cloth masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1-12 students;
- enhanced screening for secondary students and staff;
- guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and,
- temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.
It should be noted that local health units will be able to close schools to in-person learning based on local trends.
Dr. Miriam Klassen, Huron Perth’s medical officer of health, welcomed the news of schools reopening next week.
“We are pleased that schools in Huron Perth will be able to reopen for in-person learning on Monday, February 8,” said Klassen.
“We have seen a downward trend in community transmission of COVID-19 over the last two weeks. This decline, in addition to enhanced public health measures in schools, means there is a lower risk of the virus spreading in schools.”
– With files from Chris Daponte/Wellington Advertiser.