With just over three weeks left in the school year, the Ontario government has announced students will not be returning to schools for in-class learning until September.
Premier Ford said despite the COVID-19 science tables saying schools could open on a regional basis, they could not tell him it wouldn’t lead to thousands of new cases, adding their modelling showed thousands of new cases were possible if students and teachers returned to school prior to being fully vaccinated.
Ford said there was also a risk of spreading new variants.
“As your premier, these aren’t risks I’m willing to take,” he added.
The province says the decision was made in order to preserve other children’s activities this summer including day camps and sports.
The premier is encouraging schools to hold in-person outdoor graduations ceremonies at the end of the school year for students to be able to reconnect outside. Ford said these ceremonies should not be limited to just Grade 8 and Grade 12, but all grades so all students can see their classmates.
Ontario hopes to have as many youth aged 12-17 fully vaccinated by the start of the school year in September. Ford said Wednesday they would not be making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in order to attend school for anyone eligible, but “strongly encouraged” people get their shots.
Ford also said there is a possibility the province could enter Stage 1 of the reopening plan earlier than June 14, but is waiting on advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
NEW: Sr. government source tells me today's announcement is only about education & there is "possibility" phase one of re-opening could begin before wk of June 14th but "not there yet." Government wants to see impact of May 24 wknd & fewer ICU cases, concerned about India variant
— Cynthia Mulligan (@CityCynthia) June 2, 2021
Ontario’s stay-at-home order has been lifted, but the Ford government said all COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place until the province enters Stage 1.
The province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has said it believes schools can reopen safely on a regional basis for in-person learning for the last month of the school year.
Last week, Ford sent a letter to various stakeholders, including the advisory tables, health officials, school boards and teachers, asking for advice on whether it would be safe to reopen for in-person learning.
When Ford was asked directly why he decided to do the opposite of what the science table and the Medical Officers of Health recommended, he said they didn’t come to a consensus and didn’t answer the questions he asked.
“What they refused to answer was how many cases,” remarked Ford.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said Ford has failed students by ignoring recommendations that would have made schools safer.
“This advice included repeated calls for smaller class sizes, improved ventilation, and adequate personal protective equipment for educators,” read a statement President Sam Hammond.
“They also, negligently, refused to acknowledge schools as primary drivers of COVID-19 transmission.”
Hammond urged Ford to create an education advisory table to ensure a safe return to schools in September.
A group of children’s health organizations, including SickKids Hospital, said it was disappointed in the government’s decision and called for planning to ensure children are prioritized during the pandemic recovery.
“For many kids, decisions by government will impact their learning, development, physical and mental health not only now but for years to come,” the Children’s Health Coalition said in a statement.
The head of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, however, said she supported the premier’s cautious approach.
“We fully understand the importance of school for children’s mental health and academic development,” Doris Grinspun wrote on Twitter. “However, the risk of a wave four is too high. We fully support (Ford’s) decision to keep schools closed until September.”