Ford government to push back return to school until January 5

In a virtual news conference, Dr. Kieran Moore confims that all school students will return to the classroom. This comes as the Omicron variant sweeps through the province with over 13,000 cases reported Thursday.

By Lucas Casaletto and Michael Talbot

Ontario is pushing back the return to in-person learning until Wednesday, January 5 in order to provide more time to implement additional health and safety measures, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, announced on Thursday.

Classes were originally set to resume on Monday.

Moore stressed the importance of having children back in class, but said the extra time is needed to implement the following safety measures:

  • Updating the COVID-19 school and child care screener ahead of the return to school on January 5 and asking students, parents and staff for rigorous screening and monitoring of symptoms.
  • Providing non-fit-tested N95 masks for staff in schools and licensed child care settings as an optional alternative to medical/surgical masks, and additional supply of high-quality three-ply cloth masks that are strongly encouraged and free for students and children in January.
  • Deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to school boards, building on the existing 70,000 HEPA filter units and ventilation devices already in schools.
  • Continuing PCR testing eligibility for symptomatic elementary and secondary students, education staff and participating private and First Nation operated schools who have received a PCR self-collection kit through their school.
  • Starting in January, temporarily permitting only low-contact indoor sports and safe extra-curricular activities.
  • Updating COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards and child care in January.
  • Supporting the projected hiring of over 2,000 staff, funded by a $304 million allocation for second semester that includes additional teachers, custodians, and mental health workers.

“Students are returning to safer schools – with enhanced ventilation, high-quality masks, and one of the highest vaccine rates in Canada,” Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said in a release.

“We have followed the clear advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and pediatric hospitals by ensuring students safely return to learning in-class, alongside their friends and teachers. We are taking nothing for granted, which is why we are making available better quality masks, additional air ventilation units, and over $300 million to hire more teachers, custodians, and mental health workers, to ensure Ontario students remain as safe as possible.”

The province also announced that seating capacity in concert venues, arenas and theatres will be limited to 1,000 people or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is less, starting Friday at 12:01 a.m.

The changes come on the heels of yet another record-setting daily spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Ontario, with just under 14,000 infections reported on Thursday


Opposition NDP Leader Andrea Horwath calls the short delay from the Ford government “a head-scratcher.”

“Why would schools be safe enough on Wednesday but not on Monday?,” asks Horwath. “He’s leaving families scrambling to make child care plans, and with almost no new safety measures and no testing plan.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca echoed these sentiments, saying Ford has no plan to keep schools safe.

“Doug Ford’s last minute, two-day delay to re-open schools won’t do anything to keep our kids safe,” said Del Duca in a statement.

“Ontario Liberals called for HEPA filters and high quality masks to be urgently deployed in classrooms nearly two months ago but Doug Ford refused to do it when it mattered most.”

Dr. Ripudaman Minhas, a developmental pediatrician with the Women’s and Children’s Health Program at St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a mid-December interview with the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) the pandemic experience has been particularly hard on children.

He said those born in the last two years have known nothing else.

“The impact of school disruptions is not fully evaluated. We’re seeing what we call the ‘pandemic pause’ in child development — a pause in socialization, education, academics.”

Officials in British Columbia announced the delay of a total return to classrooms on Wednesday to allow public health officials to assess the impact of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and give school staff time to implement enhanced safety measures.

With files from The Canadian Press

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