Local officials question why schools remain closed in Chatham-Kent

·2 min read

Parents, students and teachers aren’t the only ones wondering why schools remain closed.

According to the Directors of Education for the two largest local school boards and Chatham-Kent’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Colby, nobody has been told by the provincial government why in-person classes can’t resume.

However, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced 280,000 students in four public health regions would return to class on Monday, February 1, including students in the London area.

As of January 29, the London area has roughly 15 times more active cases than Chatham-Kent or Sarnia-Lambton.

Colby admitted he was surprised Chatham and Sarnia area schools were not on the list.

“This is a provincially determined decision,” said Colby. “All I can say is that it’s most likely a decision that is partly made on the basis of regional analysis of numbers as opposed to what’s simply going on in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton.”

Local school officials said they hadn’t been told by the Ministry of Education what criteria goes into deciding to reopen schools.

John Howitt, Director of Education with the Lambton Kent District School Board, said the local school boards and the regional Medical Officers of Health should be privy to the criteria for reopening schools.

“I am in no way being critical of Dr. Colby not having that information,” said Howitt. “He should have that information as the local Medical Officer of Health and have input on whether our schools are open or closed.”

According to Deb Crawford, Director of Education with the St. Clair Catholic district school board, school officials were told the morning of January 28 the decision was based on advice from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams.

“That’s all we know, and that’s all we’ve been told,” said Crawford.

Lecce also said the government agrees with the growing consensus in the medical community that returning students to in-person learning is essential to children’s well-being, development, and mental health. He added leading medical and scientific experts, including Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, agree that Ontario’s schools are safe places for learning.

Students in the Chatham and Sarnia areas are scheduled to return to class on February 11.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News