Students and teachers in the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB), along with others across the province expecting a break next month will be waiting a little longer as government postpones March Break to April.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement last Thursday (Feb. 11) that the weeklong break for students and teachers, which was originally scheduled for March 15 to 19, would begin on April 12.
“Postponing March Break, not cancelling it is an important way that schools can help to limit community transmission,” said Lecce.
“I recognize that this is one more change in the year that has been challenging for so many students and our education staff who continue to work so hard, it is one made on the best advice of Public Health officials to keep them safe and to keep our schools open in this province.”
UGDSB teachers and student returned to the classroom on Feb. 8, after switching to remote-only learning following the winter holiday break, when the province saw a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“We recognize that congregation is a key driver of the spread of COVID-19, something we realized over the winter break and we will not take that risk again with your child, with our staff, with Ontario families.”
With more variant cases of COVID-19 being confirmed in the province Lecce also said the decision is all the more important to protect communities. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health (WDGPH) confirmed one case of the U.K variant in Guelph last Thursday. WDGPH later said based on an investigation into the case that five resolved cases had been confirmed or suspected variants – four from Guelph.
“It is of the utmost importance that we do not travel at this time especially as we lead into the month of March,” said Lecce.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said when the break does happen in April, they are not encouraging travel.
“We don’t want a lot of interprovincial travel either, as well as international, definitely at this time with the very much rising rapid issue of variants,” said Williams.
In the announcement Lecce also said the postponing of March Break to April will limit further disruptions to students as they return to in-person learning.
Following the announcement from Lecce, Ontario’s four teachers’ unions, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) released a joint statement.
In the joint statement the unions said they strongly oppose the government’s plan to postpone March Break.
“These are unprecedented times, and this is a much-needed break for students, teachers, education workers, and families who have been under tremendous pressure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s decision to postpone March Break does not take into consideration the mental health and well-being of those involved.”
The statement from the teachers’ unions goes on to say that despite their “unanimous opposition” towards the move to postpone the break, the government’s decision is another example of them “ignoring experts and making decision that are reckless and baseless.”
“The postponement of March Break shows, yet again, the inadequacies of the Progressive Conservative government’s planning. If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during March Break, these should be addressed by the government through other means. Why did Premier Doug Ford reopen the economy when it is clear risks remain? Is he concerned that his stay-at-home orders are ineffective? If so, he should address the real issue: this government’s ongoing failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the teachers’ union’s statement reads.
With March Break now postponed, the UGDSB said schedules will be adjusted including changes to school calendars, events, and board-level events. Heather Loney, UGDSB Communication Manager said they will also have to review any adjustments needed for secondary schools and the impact on the quadmester schedule, but that they should not impact the overall delivery of curriculum and student learning.
“Any changes and updates required will be communicated to those affected directly,” said Loney.
Speaking to concerns for mental health of teachers and students with the postponing, Loney said, “We understand that difficult decision must be made by public health officials to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the province. The past year has been one of constant change and we are grateful for the hard work and adaptability shown by staff and students.”
“We believe that students and staff need and deserve a break to recharge. We are thankful that there will still be a break in the short-term. The mental health and well-being of our students and staff is propriety for us and we will continue to do our best as a board to support our students and staff,” she added.
March Break will now start the week of April 12.
Paula Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shelburne Free Press