SOUTH DUNDAS – After a month of learning from home due to province-wide restrictions, students across the region returned to in-school learning February 2nd.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that schools in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region, and three other health units, could return to schools starting February 1st.
The two English language school boards in the EOHU had professional development days scheduled already for February 1st, prompting a return to school the following day. More than 280,000 students from the four health unit regions are part of this second stage of school reopenings, including Ottawa.
Neighbouring Leeds-Grenville-Lanark saw Kindergarten to Grade 8 students return to school January 25th, Grade 9-12 students in that area also return to school February 2nd. That day also marks the halfway point of the 2020-21 school year.
All Upper Canada District School Board students who opted for in-person learning in schools returned to class Tuesday, while Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario students returned in two stages. Kindergarten to Grade 8 on February 2nd, and Grades 9-12 students return on February 3rd.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said that returning to school at this point is safe, with the appropriate precautions in place.
He said there were four main factors for deciding to reopen schools and that in the EOHU region, all were in the right direction.
Those factors were the decrease in the seven-day rolling average of new infections, stabilization of hospitalizations and facility outbreaks, COVID-19 reproductive rates, and test positivity rates.
“We had the discussion with the Chief Medical Officer of Health [Dr. David Williams] this week about it and looking at the numbers,” he said. “Because the numbers are going down, and they are certainly not where they were a couple of weeks ago, we feel that the level of community transmission will allow us to open the schools.”
Roumeliotis explained that if schools had been opened earlier in January when community transmission numbers were higher, COVID-19 may not have been spread in schools but people could have entered the school already infected.
“It’s not that the schools aren’t safe,” he said. “The higher the levels outside of the school, the easier it is to get into the schools.”
There are more precautions being taken once students get to school. These include masking for Grade 1-3 students, increased sanitizing, mandatory mask wearing outside when physical distancing cannot be done, and COVID-19 testing of students in school. With those measures, Roumeliotis said schools are safe to open.
“I think the time is right,” he said, adding that the move balances the need for students to be in school with the decreased numbers in the community.
While schools are reopening, local health units still can close schools if there are outbreaks, and parents have the option to keep their children at-home to learn.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader