Schools to remain closed until end of June

Merna Emara
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the next time Ontario’s publicly-funded schools will open is in September. The announcement that the school year inside the classroom is over was made by the provincial government at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.

“After careful consideration, after consulting with the health experts, it is clear: We cannot open schools at this time. I’m just not going to risk it,” Premier Doug Ford said. “The safety of our children is my top priority and one thing I will never do is take unnecessary risks when it comes to our children. Education will continue outside of the classroom.”

Schools in Ontario have been closed since March 13, accounting for more than two months of empty classrooms. The first closure came for two weeks following the March break. This closure remained since then because of measures to decrease the spread of COVID-19.

Ford assured parents and students graduating from their final year in high school that the pandemic will not put their progress on hold.

All students who were on track who were on track to graduate from secondary school before the initial school order closure was made in March will be able to graduate, and all students will receive report cards, Ford said.

The provincial press release said in order to support at-home learning, the government is leveraging all tools, resources, technologies and services to assist school boards deliver equitable and effective learning through access to technology and internet connectivity.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA) released a statement following the provincial press release saying they appreciate the government taking precautionary measures to return to in-class instruction that is guided by health officials.

Cathy Abraham, OPSBA’s president, said in the statement that they will continue to work with the government to facilitate a return to school in September.

“In all likelihood, the school experience will be different from what we are used to, and I know that school board staff will endeavor to make the return as safe and positive as possible,” Abraham said in the statement.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the announcement of the full plan for reopening the province’s publicly-funded schools in September will be released end of June. Lecce added that this plan will also contain measures to ensure physical distancing at school when classes resume in September.

“It is obvious that schools will not look the same, that we will have to reimagine education in some respects in September given that there will have to be some protocol changes,” Lecce said.

The press release indicates that the plan to be announced in September will be “bolstered by an enhanced province-wide virtual learning program that will allow all students to learn, regardless of the challenges that may transpire in the coming months.”

When asked about why schools in small towns do not reopen if cases in these areas are low, Ford said “I’m just not going to risk it. Why chance it for a few weeks? It’s just not worth it.”

Ford also announced that overnight camps will remain closed this summer. However, Ford offered a glimmer of hope and said if the trends keep improving, day camps could open with strict public measures in place, in July and August, at the discretion of Medical Officers.

Tuesday was also the first day Ontario officially entered its first stage of lifting up restrictions. Stage 1 includes retail, outdoor, recreational, industry services, seasonal activities and care and household services.

Other non-essential professional services such as conducting research, experimental development, engineering and life will also open. All while observing physical distancing rules.