Ontario to ‘suspend reporting’ of COVID-19 cases in schools

The Ministry of Education will no longer be collecting COVID-19 case numbers from school boards. Maleeha Sheikh speaks to medical experts who say this move is worrisome, as it will create difficulty tracking outbreaks and keeping students safe.

By John Marchesan

The Ford government is no longer going to collect COVID-19 case numbers from schools and child care centres after new testing guidelines were announced last week.

In a memo to provincial school boards, the Ministry of Education says due to recent changes in case and contact management it will “suspend reporting” of COVID-19 cases in schools.

“Further information will be shared shortly with school boards on reporting expectations of absences in schools and school closures due to COVID-19,” reads the memo that was sent by Minister of Education Stephen Lecce on Thursday night – the same day that the province revealed it was delaying the return of in-person learning across the province to January 5.

A similar memo was sent to all provincial child care licensees.

Both the Toronto District School Board and Peel District School Board confirmed the Ministry will no longer be collecting COVID-19 case numbers.

“The TDSB, which is committed to keeping families as informed as possible, is currently reviewing how reporting and notification may happen moving forward,” read a letter sent home to parents.

The Ministry memo also points out that, even though the Omicron variant is quickly spreading, cohort-based dismissals may not occur in schools and child care settings to “balance individual risk and societal disruption.”

“All sectors must plan for the potential of higher than normal levels of absenteeism in the coming weeks, as Ontarians comply with screening and isolation guidance,” Lecce says in the memo. “The education sector is not immune to this, and it will mean planning for higher than normal student and staff absenteeism.”

RELATED: Epidemiologist urges extended school closures, calls Ontario’s plan ‘catastrophic’

To help mitigate increases in staff absences and student absenteeism, schools will be allowed to introduce “rotating, planned remote learning days” up to one day per week as well as combining classes and assigning students to different classes to ensure supervision.

“Class size standards should continue to be respected,” reads the Ministry memo.

School boards have been advised that all elementary students will be required to remain in their cohorts during recess and outdoor breaks to limit additional contacts as much as possible.

“We will always stand ready to act when we believe children and the staff within the schools may become unsafe,” Lecce told CityNews in an interview on Friday. “Our commitment is to keep them safe.”

The opposition NDP calls the move to stop reporting cases of COVID in schools and child care settings “terrifying for parents.”

“Ford’s attempt to cover up COVID numbers in schools is going to hurt kids, families, teachers and education workers,” said Education critic Marit Stiles. “If we can’t track where the virus is, we can’t fight it. Ford is treating students and staff like pawns in his attempt to hide rising COVID numbers.”

Almost a quarter of the province’s 4,844 schools were dealing with a COVID case when the Ministry last released figures on December 23, 2021. Twenty-one schools were listed as closed due to an outbreak prior to the Christmas break.

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