Ontario considers closing schools to in-person learning for two weeks after spring break, sources say

TORONTO — Ontario students could continue virtual learning beyond the April break for at least two weeks, CTV News Toronto and CP24 have learned, as the province experiences a dramatic surge of COVID-19, leading to concerns about the disease being tracked into schools.

Premier Doug Ford is set to hold at cabinet meeting Monday to discuss the situation and potential school closures and is scheduled to hold a news conference at 3 p.m. along with Education Minister Stephen Lecce and the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.

CTVNewsToronto.ca will stream the announcement live.

Sources told CTV News Toronto the decision was made over the weekend, as the province posted new records in daily case numbers and admissions to intensive care. 

Additional sources within the government expressed concerns about the impact of provincial transmission rates on schools if students were to return after a week off. 

Lecce told the provincial legislature on Monday while the government’s priority is to keep the education system safe, he is growing increasingly concerned about the sharp rise in cases. 

“We have put in place a plan with an aim to keep schools safe, that is our number one priority, the rising case numbers in Ontario raise great concerns to all of us and we’re working with the Chief Medical Officer to make sure that our families can be safe through the third wave.’

The potential closure of in-school learning, however, would come in spite of a letter from Lecce on Sunday that insisted schools would remain open during the province-wide stay at home order. 

“During the provincial emergency brake and the provincial stay-at-home order, all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools will remain open for in-person learning with strict health and safety measures in place, except in those regions where local public health units have directed schools in their areas to pivot to remote learning,” Lecce said in the letter. 

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government was “wrong” to suggest that schools were safe and is calling for additional investments for when students return to the classroom, including additional caps on classroom size and widespread testing in schools. 

‘It didn’t have to be that way, we didn’t have to be in the situation that we are now in terms of COVID-19 altogether. Had the government made the investments all along, we wouldn’t be facing the likelihood of another school closure,” Horwath told reporters at Queen’s Park. 

Liberal Health Critic John Fraser said Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches is actively considering closing schools after the April break. 

“She has a great deal of concern about the level of community spread in Ottawa,” Fraser said. “That community spread is what drives challenges inside schools.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said he trusts the local medical officers of health over the government – which he says hasn’t made investments to reduce community transmission or prevent the virus from creeping into schools. 

“The government has failed to invest in keeping our schools safe,” Schreiner said.  

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