Ontario is evaluating whether schools that are closed for in-person learning can reopen next week, with Education Minister Stephen Lecce saying the province will announce a back-to-school date on Wednesday.
Earlier Monday, Premier Doug Ford said an announcement would be made in the “next day or two,” and Lecce confirmed the day on Twitter later that evening.
We want all students in all regions back to class.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health confirmed to Premier @fordnation & I that on Wednesday he will finalize his advice.
The Government will provide certainty parents deserve by announcing on Wednesday the dates for reopening.
— Stephen Lecce (@Sflecce) February 1, 2021
All students began January with online learning as part of a provincial lockdown.
The province has since taken a staggered approach to reopening physical classrooms, starting first with Northern Ontario and rural schools where case rates are lower.
Schools in five hot spots as well as several other regions are currently teaching students entirely online and the province previously said they would reopen for in-person learning by Feb. 10.
Premier Doug Ford said the goal is to get all students back in class by that date, as long as COVID-19 cases don’t skyrocket.
“That’s our goal, Feb. 10,” he said. ”If it’s not safe we aren’t sending them back.”
Lecce said the government is considering various factors, including COVID-19 case counts and local preparedness plans.
Video: Premier Ford says goal is to get all students back in class Feb 10th and an announcement will be made in next day or so. He adds this is as long as numbers don't skyrocket. pic.twitter.com/puJWmuQ829
— Cynthia Mulligan (@CityCynthia) February 1, 2021
While case counts across the province have been declining, health officials have warned that new variants of COVID-19 present a risk to containing the pandemic.
Ontario’s chief medical officer said the province needs to do more work with public health units before all schools can reopen to in-person learning.
“We don’t want transmission in the schools, we want to keep that out,” Dr. David Williams said. “So we’ve asked (local health units) now to put those plans in place.”
Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, said her office is also in ongoing discussions with the province about how students can return safely to in-person learning.
She also said that Toronto Public Health is looking into what further enhancements could be put in place to create an even higher standard of safety before schools reopen.
“As soon as we can get our children back to school in a safe manner, in a manner that actually supports their safety and the safety of their teachers and all those that are required to run our schools, that’s what we’re looking for,” De Villa said.
To that end the province also announced it has allocated $341 million of federal funding to school boards to bolster COVID-19 safety.
The funding will be used for a variety of measures including to hire more cleaning staff, buy personal protective equipment, and enhance air filtration in schools.