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School set to resume for 100,000-plus Ontario students on Monday

An empty classroom inside Toronto's Kensington Community School

More than 100,000 students from regions outside the GTHA will be heading back into the classroom on Monday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last week that the province’s Chief Medical Officer had cleared the way for in-person learning to resume across seven public health units including Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge, and Peterborough Public Health.

In a statement released Sunday, Lecce reaffirmed that the province’s goal continues to be keeping students and staff safe. He added that “tougher layers of protection” have been introduced, such as targeted asymptomatic testing, enhanced screening, mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3 and outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

The head of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation is calling on the province to immediately pause in-person learning until appropriate safety measures are in place.

“The best kind of learning is in-person, face-to-face, with the support of education workers and teachers,” says Harvey Bischof. “But, as long as we don’t have a government that is going to really implement the safety measures that the medical experts are telling them they should then I think we need to hit pause for a bit.”

Bischof adds the province has rejected medical advice when it comes to smaller class sizes and better ventilation in schools.

The 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.

On January 12, the Ford government announced that elementary and secondary students in Windsor-Essex, Peel, Toronto, York Region, and Hamilton would continue to learn remotely while it continues to closely monitor public health trends in those regions.

Elementary students and secondary students in the seven Northern Ontario public health units returned to in-person learning on January 11.