Ford government to stop collecting COVID-19 data from school boards, suspends reporting of cases in schools

Education Ministry memo goes into detail on how school boards can minimize school closures

Effective next week, the Ontario government will suspend the reporting of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff and stop collecting data about infections from school boards.

School board officials received the policy change notification in a memo from the Ministry of Education on Thursday, the same day the province announced the holiday break was being extended by two days from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5.

Memo details were tweeted by NDP education critic Marit Stiles.

“Given recent changes to case and contact management by the Ministry of Health and OCMOH (Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health), the ministry will suspend reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools,” the memo states.

While case counts will no longer be posted, the ministry said it will continue to report school and child-care closures due to COVID-19.

“Further information will be shared shortly with school boards on reporting expectations of absences in schools and school closures due to COVID-19, in conjunction with educational and pediatric leaders,” the memo read.

Prior to the policy change, the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board noted on its website that as of Dec. 17 it would no longer post updated COVID-19 cases and closures, and the most recent case information for its schools could be found on the  Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit outbreak page. 

Stiles said hiding school cases and outbreak information is troubling.

“Ford’s attempt to cover up COVID numbers in schools is going to hurt kids, families, teachers and education workers,” said Stiles in a statement. “Parents have to decide to send their kids to school not knowing if the school has a high number of COVID cases. 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.”

The NDP wants the Ford government to reverse its decision, saying it is throwing education and child care into a risky crisis.

The memo goes into detail on how school boards can minimize school closures due to operational reasons related to “high rates of expected absenteeism” among staff.

One of the steps is allowing school boards to “combine classes and assign students to different classes to ensure supervision.”

Schools can also introduce “rotating, planned remote learning days for schools if needed, up to one day per week,” the memo read.

The notice indicated that dismissal classes and cohorts may no longer be needed even after a positive case is confirmed, though students and staff experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or are confirmed cases are still expected to self-isolate no matter their vaccination status.