In a news conference at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, Jun 2, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that schools in the province will not reopen for in-person learning for the remainder of the academic year. Classrooms in the province have been closed since mid-April due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. The Premier was joined in the news conference by Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Health Minister Christine Elliott. The provincial government said it sought input from medical experts and educators while it considered the reopening of schools. The announcement came as the provincewide stay-at-home order expired, while public health restrictions remained in place.
“COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on everyone in Ontario,” said Premier Ford. “But our children have been impacted more than most, the pandemic has disrupted their lives and taken away their ability to go to school, to see friends, to connect with each other. Last week, I wrote to the public health, medical and education experts, asking for their opinion on the best path forward. And it’s no secret that some of them said kids should be back in school on a regional basis for the last couple of weeks of school. But here’s what the experts couldn’t say: they couldn’t tell us that returning to in-class learning before more students and teachers are vaccinated won’t lead to thousands and thousands of new cases,” Premier Ford continued.
“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” said Premier Ford. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”
The Ontario government said that recent modelling presented by the Science Advisory Table revealed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases. It is unknown how many of these would be the new, more dangerous B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India, which has entered the province through Canada’s borders.
“An increase in cases and the spread of variants would also threaten Ontarians’ hard-fought progress in beating the third wave and could delay the safe return to many summer activities for kids, including day and overnight camps, sports leagues and public pools, among other important activities that support children’s physical and mental wellbeing,” said the Ontario government.
“While this decision was not made lightly, it has been done with one aim: protect the summer for families and deliver a stable and safe September for students,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We are looking forward and taking action by getting all education workers and students vaccinated with both doses ahead of September, while investing an additional $2 billion to ensure students and staff are safe.”
Schools will continue to remain open for in-person learning for special education students who cannot be accommodated through remote learning until the end of June.
“Vaccines remain the best defence against COVID-19 and to date, more than 9.36 million doses have been administered in Ontario and a plan to accelerate second doses has just been released. Youth aged 12 and over are currently eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the provincial booking system and call centre, as well as at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine,” said the government.
“Students have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic, with important milestones like graduation ceremonies impacted. Ontario students deserve this positive conclusion to their academic journey, safely. The government will allow school boards to invite graduating students in elementary schools (by class) and secondary schools (by homeroom/quadmestered class) to return to school in June for a short, outdoor celebration, where physical distancing is possible,” said the Ontario government.
With schools in Ontario closed for in-person learning, emergency child care (ECC) will continue until the end of June to align with the end of the elementary school year, the government said. Before and after school programs will remain closed and will continue to not charge parent fees, which is prohibited during the remote learning period. Licensed child care centres may resume serving school-aged children for full-days in programming over the summer months, in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s health and safety guidance. Those before and after school programs that operate as a camp over the summer will be permitted to do so, and will follow health and safety guidance from the Ministry of Health.