In-class learning for Southern Ontario elementary students delayed until January 25

By Lucas Casaletto

With COVID-19 cases on a steep incline, particularly affecting younger people and children, the Ford government said it’s extending online learning for elementary students in southern Ontario until January 25, further delaying a return to class.

In consultation with Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Doug Ford said this includes elementary school students in the 27 Southern Ontario public health unit regions with the government extending the shutdown in Northern Ontario for another 14 days, aligning with the current lockdown.

Additionally, in-person learning will be deferred to January 25 in Southern Ontario, which follows with the planned return of in-person learning for secondary school students in these regions.

Elementary students and secondary students in the seven Northern Ontario public health unit regions will proceed with returning to in-person learning on January 11.

“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said Premier 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,” the Premier added.

Elementary level students were scheduled to return to their schools and classrooms on Monday.

“Targeted testing done among students and staff in December 2020 confirmed that schools are not a significant source of transmission. However, with students having been at home for several weeks and with reports of concerning behaviour over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply,” Dr. David Williams said.

“Most troubling, the positivity rate for kids aged 12-13 years old increased from 5.44 percent in late November, early December to nearly 20 percent in early January.”

Williams said the levels of community transmission in southern Ontario are at an alarming rate, compared to other northern regions.

Ford’s decision comes as the union representing the province’s elementary teachers pushed local public health units to reconsider a return to in-person learning, especially for areas hit hardest by the virus.

President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Sam Hammond, has said it makes no sense to send students, teachers, and education workers back to school while the province is locked down.

ETFO doubled down shortly after the Ford government’s announcement, accusing the Premier and his administration of neglecting the spread and severity of the virus.

“As a result of the Ford government’s failure to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Ontario, we are at the height of a pandemic that has surged out of control,” ETFO said in a statement.

“This has resulted in yet another last-minute decision, one that extends remote learning.”

On Wednesday, the ETFO sent an open letter to the Premier, minister of education, and provincial health officials asking for an extension of virtual learning because of a sharp rise of COVID-19 cases in the community.

ETFO also wants to see asymptomatic testing rolled out in schools.

RELATED: Lecce – Extended winter break ‘not necessary’ for schools in Ontario

Epidemiologist Dr. David Fisman has long supported a delayed return, calling it irresponsible to send children and educators back to school without knowing for sure it’s safe.

Several GTA education workers have reached out to 680 NEWS to say they still have to go to work because they work with special needs children.

A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says when the Ford government announced the closure before the holidays, it required boards to make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs.

They add that these children cannot be accommodated through online learning for whom remote learning is challenging.

In a letter issued last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce insisted that schools are not a significant source of COVID-19 transmission.

“Learning must continue, even during a pandemic,” Lecce said in a tweet on Sunday.

In recent months, Lecce and the Ford government has maintained the importance of keeping schools open despite a rise in positive infections.

Toronto’s top doctor, Eileen de Villa, also recently touched on the possibility of continued online learning, saying she is “very concerned.”

“We have a lot of COVID-19 activity and in our community and we know that spread in our community gives rise to greater risk,” de Villa said on Wednesday.

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