Due to the high increase in COVID-19 instances across the province, the Ontario government has announced that students will not return to classes and would instead learn electronically until January 17th.
During a press conference on Monday morning, Premier Doug Ford announced the school closures as part of the government’s new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variety.
On Monday, Ford told reporters, “We need to prioritize the continued health and safety of our students and our school employees.” “As a result, we will postpone the return to in-class learning for the following two weeks and instead use virtual learning for the duration of our absence.”
“I know this isn’t the news anyone wants to hear, but with a new variant the ground is shifting every single day.”
Most students have been home for the past two weeks for the holiday break. The premier said that publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting Jan. 5 until at least Jan. 17, subject to public health trends and operational considerations.
School buildings would be permitted to open for child care operations and to provide in-person instruction for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated remotely.
The province added that free emergency child care will be provided for school-aged children of health care and other eligible frontline workers.
The two-week delay for in-person learning is a strong shift away from the government’s original announcement a few days ago when Ford announced the return-to-school date would be pushed by just two days, from Jan. 3 to Jan. 5.
The government had said at the time that the two extra days after the winter break would give schools extra time to provide N95 masks to staff and to deploy 3,000 more HEPA filter units.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the union representing public elementary school educators in Ontario, issued a news release following the announcement on Monday, renewing calls for “safety measures and a sustainable return to in-person learning.”
The union welcomed the premier’s decision, saying that the decision made in today’s announcement is a safer than the one made last week, but that additional action is still needed.
“As the pandemic surges, the Ford government must invest in infection prevention and control measures that ensure in-person learning can continue safely and sustainably,” ETFO President Karen Brown said in Monday’s statement.
“Last week’s decision came dangerously close to risking the safety of students and ETFO members. We share the belief that in-person learning is the best and most equitable way for students to learn, but it must be safe.”
She went on to say that if the government had “financed and implemented safety precautions from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the necessity for a return to online learning could have been averted.
“We understand the difficulties that come with yet another round of distance learning. We will continue to urge the Ford government to invest in proper infection prevention measures to guarantee that this is the last time we require this emergency action “Brown remarked.
“We want to see students return to school as soon as possible, but schools must be safe, and we need more than a few of press conferences to know that they are.”
Source_ The Canadian Press