Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday June 4, 2021

Ontario won’t reopen schools for in-person learning this spring, Ford announces

Ontario students won’t return to in-class learning before September, Premier Doug Ford announced at a news conference Wednesday.

“It was a hard choice to make,” Ford said.

“I don’t want to risk the health of our kids and cutting off their summer.”

On Monday, Ford said his government was reviewing responses to a letter sent last Thursday that solicited advice on reopening schools from a range of expert groups including public health officials and teachers’ unions.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Ford said some experts believed students should be back in class, but they could not promise that kids being back in schools wouldn’t lead to thousands of new COVID-19 cases, especially when variants of concern are considered.

In a news release, the province said recent modelling from the Science Advisory Table showed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning, the province could see an increase in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases by six to 11 per cent.

That same modelling also predicted a spike in cases could occur if Ontario starts reopening the province before mid-June — something Ford said Wednesday he is now proposing.

“By remaining cautious and vigilant, we protect our summer. We protect September,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said.

The province says schools will continue to remain open until the end of June for special education students who cannot be accommodated through remote learning.

Most students in Ontario have been learning remotely since April 19 due to soaring rates of COVID-19 amid the third wave of the pandemic.

Ford said the province is pushing for a “safe and normal” return to school in September. “We’ll use this time to get our teachers and students vaccinated,” the premier said.

The province will also be making upgrades to air systems in schools, Ford said.

Critics slammed the province’s decision Wednesday. During question period, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pointed out that Ontario is the only province in Canada without kids in class.

“And there’s a reason for that. It’s not an accident,” she said. “This government walked us right into the third wave, ignoring the advice of experts.

“Kids in the classroom were supposed to come first. That was what was supposed to be the priority.”

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said in a statement that Ford’s government has failed to manage the pandemic by ignoring stakeholders, including recommendations from the science table.

“This advice included repeated calls for smaller class sizes, improved ventilation, and adequate personal protective equipment for educators,” Hammond said.

“Under false pretenses, Minister Lecce spent nine months insisting schools were safe, without any evidence to confirm this. This government’s utter disregard for the safety of students, educators and other education workers cannot be ignored.”

In a statement, the Children’s Health Coalition, which includes organizations such as SickKids and McMaster Children’s Hospital, said it is “deeply disappointed” that Ontario hasn’t acted upon a “broad consensus for a regional reopening of in-person learning” reached by experts in public health and teachers’ organizations alike. (CBC) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ford-lecce-school-announcement-1.6049729

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