Ontario’s education minister confirms April school break to go ahead as planned – for now

By John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

Spring break for Ontario’s schools will go ahead as planned next month, at least for now, the education minister said, drawing criticism for not providing enough clarity on the matter.

Stephen Lecce said the government will let families know if recommendations from the province’s top doctor necessitate a change to the break scheduled for the week of April 12.

“When it comes to April break, we plan to proceed,” Lecce said in the legislature.

“If anything changes, given the day-to-day change and fluctuations of the COVID-19 numbers in Ontario, we’ll make sure all families know that well in advance.”

The province decided earlier this year to delay the March break until April in an effort to curb COVID-19 cases, saying it wanted to discourage group gatherings and travel over that time.

With infections now rising in the province once more, questions had been raised about whether the government might alter spring break once again.

As for when the break is over, Lecce says protective measures will be ramped up to keep COVID-19 out of classrooms.

“We’re not going to be reintegrating students back into schools without a heightened level of vigilance on that date,” said Lecce.

“We’ll bring forth a plan that will highlight and underscore improved safety measures and access to testing that will reduce any potential case entering into our schools. That is the commitment we’re making.”

Toronto’s medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa was asked directly if she’ll recommend to the province that schools close after the April 12 break but she didn’t give a clear answer.

“People can rest assured that we are all committed to trying to make schools as safe environments as they can be for students and for teachers,” de Villa said.

“We are looking at, all the time, the overall health picture for the children.”

Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he couldn’t give a direct answer on whether the break would be postponed or altered.

“To be very frank, I don’t want to predict two weeks out,” Ford said Monday.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the government needs to give families and teachers a clear answer.

RELATED: TDSB asks schools to prepare for extended online learning

“The ongoing uncertainty around our education system is problematic. It’s not what kids and students and teachers and parents need right now,” she said Tuesday.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), was critical of the idea of postponing or cancelling spring break.

He said that the government’s failure to contain the spread of COVID-19 has led to the possibility of another postponement even though teachers need the break for their mental health.

“If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during the break, these should be addressed by the government through other means than cancelling the break,” said Hammond in a statement.

“They can introduce community safety protocols, and allow students, education workers and families, who’ve been under tremendous pressure throughout the pandemic, to have their much-needed break.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) asked principals on Monday to be prepared for the possibility that students may not return to in-person learning after spring break.

“(It) was reiterating what we’ve said since the beginning of the school year _ that we need to be prepared if individual classes or schools need to close as a result of COVID,” spokesman Ryan Bird said of the memo sent to principals.

“It’s not that we have any new information, but given the circumstances, we just wanted to remind our schools.”

Lecce did not discuss the prospect of moving learning online following spring break on Tuesday but said the government is planning to step up safety protocols when students and staff return to in-class learning on April 19.

He said that plan will be announced in the coming days.

“We’re committed to expanding testing as well as stronger screening protocols before a student and a potential case enters a school,” he said.

“We appreciate the challenge that this pandemic has imposed to working parents.”

More than half a dozen public and catholic schools in the City are currently shut down because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

RELATED: Four more TDSB, 2 TCDSB schools close due to COVID-19 concerns

Later Tuesday, Ford said the government was considering additional restrictions to combat a recent surge in COVID-19.

An announcement is expected Wednesday.

The Premier did not specify what new measures his government was contemplating but said he will consult the province’s top doctor before making a decision.

Ontario reported 2,333 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 15 more deaths from the virus.

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