Ontario Won’t Reopen School For In-Person Learning this Spring

Ontario students won’t return to in-class learning before September, Premier Doug Ford announced at a news conference Wednesday.

“It was a hard choice to make,” Premier Ford said. “I don’t want to risk the health of our kids and cutting off their summer.”

Premier Ford said some experts believed students should be back in class, but they could not promise that kids being back in schools wouldn’t lead to thousands of new COVID-19 cases, especially when variants of concern are considered.

In a news release, the province said recent modelling from the Science Advisory Table showed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning, the province could see an increase in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases by six to 11 per cent.

The province says schools will continue to remain open until the end of June for special education students who cannot be accommodated through remote learning.

Most students in Ontario have been learning remotely since April 19 due to soaring rates of COVID-19 amid the third wave of the pandemic.

Premier Ford said the province is pushing for a “safe and normal” return to school in September. “We’ll use this time to get our teachers and students vaccinated,” the premier said. The province will also be making upgrades to air systems in schools, Premier Ford said.

Critics, however, criticized the province’s decision on Wednesday. NDP New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath pointed out that Ontario is the only province in Canada that does not allow children to return to schools.

The government is also working with school boards on organizing in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grades, Ford said. The premier did not elaborate on how that would work. Only five people from outside a household are allowed to gather outside right now in Ontario.

When asked if COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory in schools for the upcoming school year, Ford said he doesn’t believe people should be forced to take them.

“We can’t force anyone to go get a vaccination. We encourage them,” he said.

Officials say people 12 and over are currently eligible to schedule a vaccine appointment through the provincial booking system and call centre, as well as at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Ontario officials expect all youth over the age of 12 who want a vaccine will have a first dose by the end of June, and a second dose by the end of August. All education and school workers should have a second dose by the week of Aug. 15, the province says, depending on vaccine supply.

The province says emergency child care will continue until the end of June to align with the elementary school year, but before- and after-school programs will remain closed.

Licensed child-care centres can start hosting school-aged kids for full-day programming over the summer months in accordance with provincial health and safety guidance. Similarly, before- and after-school programs that operate as a camp over the summer will be allowed to do so, while following health and safety guidance from the province.

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