Ontario students who were set to return to the classroom on Monday will continue learning remotely for at least another two weeks, the Ford government announced on Thursday.
In a release the province said it would extend online learning “until January 25, 2021 for elementary school students in the 27 Southern Ontario public health unit regions and extending the shutdown in Northern Ontario for another 14 days, aligning with the shutdown period in Southern Ontario.”
Premier Doug Ford said the decision was made in consultation with Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and other health officials.
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said Ford. “That’s why we’re extending the remote learning period for students in Southern Ontario and the shutdown period for Northern Ontario, while continuing to provide financial relief for parents through the Support for Learners program as well as electricity rate relief for all time-of-use customers. We have to get the numbers down and today’s measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
Earlier Thursday, Ford said the positivity rate in children under age 13 is near 20 per cent. “One in five kids are showing COVID right now.”
“Number one priority is not to put our kids in jeopardy,” Ford said.
The province announced record highs Thursday for both COVID-19 cases (3,519) and deaths (89).
The head of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) says the “last-minute decision” by the Ford government once again leaves families and educators scrambling.
“We firmly believe that in-person instruction in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery, and is the most equitable model for all students,” said Sam Hammond.
“We also call on the government to take this extra time to immediately implement the necessary measures to ensure a safe return to in-person learning is possible.”
The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) called on the Ford government to engage in “genuine consultation” with educators to come up with a plan that includes robust testing, enhanced screening and contact tracing as well as supports for teachers delivering in-class and remote learning simultaneously.
“Reopening schools – and keeping them open – should be a top priority. But this will be possible only if the government takes immediate action to make schools safer than they were before the winter break,” OECTA said in a statement.
NDP Education critic Marit Stiles is calling on the Ford government to not only close schools but make them safe to re-open again. They would like to see a broad in-school asymptomatic testing program, cap class sizes at 15 and getting teachers and education workers vaccinated sooner rather than later.