Ford government to close schools to in-person learning after spring break

Liberals want education minister fired for mixed messaging

With COVID-19 infections rising, all schools across Ontario will remain closed following the April break and kids will go back to virtual learning.

Classes were to resume on Apr. 19.

Premier Doug Ford confirmed the news at a media briefing Monday afternoon

“We are seeing a rapidly deteriorating situation with a record number of COVID cases and hospital admissions threatening to overwhelm our health care system,” said Ford. “As I have always said we will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone stays safe. By keeping kids home longer after spring break we will limit community transmission, take pressure off our hospitals and allow more time to rollout our COVID-19 vaccine plan.”  

The switch to online learning also applies to private schools.

Child care for non-school aged children will remain open, before and after school programs will be closed and free emergency child care for the school-aged children of eligible health care and frontline workers will be provided. To protect the most vulnerable, boards will make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs who require additional support that cannot be accommodated through remote learning.

The government said data will be assessed on an ongoing basis and health officials will be consulted to determine when it will be safe to resume in-person learning.

Last week, medical officers of health in Toronto, Peel and the Guelph-area ordered schools in their jurisdictions closed and a return to online learning because of a growth in infections.

Since late February, schools in the province have been tied to between 9 and 11 per cent of all known active cases of coronavirus at any one time.

“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students. Our priority has always been to keep schools open, however sharply rising community transmission can put our schools and Ontario families at risk,” said Education Minister Stephe Lecce. “While Ontario’s plan has kept schools safe, as confirmed by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we are taking decisive and preventative action today to ensure students can safely return to learning in our schools.”

Yet on Sunday, Lecce wrote in a letter to parents that he wanted schools to remain open during the provincial stay-at-home order “except in those regions where local public health units have directed schools in their areas to pivot to online learning.”

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca called for the education minister to be fired for his role in sending mixed messaging. In a statement on Monday afternoon, Del Duca said the “in-fighting” is putting our children and education workers at risk.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath blasted the government for what she called its “flip flop.”

“Today’s announcement was pretty shocking, considering just 24 hours ago Minister Lecce was assuring everyone that schools were staying open,” she said. “Doug Ford walked us right into this school shutdown with his eyes wide open. We all saw the modeling we know this was coming.”

In three of the last four days, Ontario has recorded more than 4,000 daily cases of COVID-19, and Sunday set a single-day record for new infections at 4,456.

The province’s test positivity rate is at 9.5 per cent, a number not seen since late December.