TORONTO — Calls mounted on Tuesday for Premier Doug Ford to announce whether Ontario schools will reopen for the rest of the month.
Opposition politicians said Ford was failing to show leadership and leaving families in the dark as the end of the academic year inched closer.
Ford, who did not include schools in the province's economic reopening plan last month, issued a call for advice on reopening physical classrooms late last week and was still making up his mind on the issue, the health minister said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the uncertainty over schools had gone on too long.
"The very least that the government can do is be concise and clear and provide kids, educators, education workers, parents, with some information as quickly as possible," she said. "It's been dragging on for far too long already."
She also repeated calls for enhanced safety measures in schools ahead of any reopening.
"We could have had kids in school much more often during this pandemic, but Doug Ford just didn't want to make the investment," she said.
Liberal house leader John Fraser said the delay in announcing a decision either suggested incompetence or was a political strategy by the government.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the premier's handling of the issue – and lack of advance planning for reopening schools – was a failure of leadership.
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said the union supports reopening schools based on local COVID-19 trends but the lengthy decision-making process makes that less appealing as time drags on.
"With each passing day, the exercise becomes more futile," Harvey Bischof said in an interview, adding the ideal time to make a decision on schools was "days ago."
The window for a productive return to class is even smaller for secondary school students, who have fewer classes and an exam period in June, he noted.
Bischof argued that Ford's continued deliberations on the issue indicated that education isn't a priority for the government.
Classrooms have been closed for in-person learning since mid-April, when the province was battling a deadly third wave of infections. Since then, infections and hospitalizations have dropped significantly – Ontario reported 699 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and nine deaths from the virus.
Ontario's top doctor and his counterparts in much of the province say they support resuming in-person classes though experts have predicted a bump in COVID-19 cases if schools reopen.
Pediatric hospitals and many doctors have been calling on the government to immediately reopen schools amid the recent decline in cases, saying in-person learning is crucial to children's well-being.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday the government was still examining advice from experts on the issue.
"It is something that they are taking time to review the information that they received back, to be able to make a decision that is going to be in the best interests of Ontarians and safe for all children," she said.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce did not provide details on any ongoing cabinet discussions.
“We will provide the certainty that parents deserve once a decision has been made," Caitlin Clark said in a statement.
Ford said Monday that a decision on schools would come "in the next day or two."
Meanwhile, the province said that a stay-at-home order would lift as planned on Wednesday – though few other public health measures would change.
The order was enacted in April and called for residents to only leave home for reasons deemed essential, such as exercise, grocery shopping or health-care services.
Starting Wednesday, that rule will no longer be in effect, but other measures like a five-person limit on outdoor gatherings and restrictions on in-person shopping at most businesses will remain in place until the province moves ahead with its reopening plan later this month.
"We’ve seen great progress in our fight against COVID-19 in recent weeks, but now is not the time to let our guard down,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement.
Later Tuesday, legislators voted to pass a motion appointing the province's next top doctor. Dr. Kieran Moore, currently the medical officer of health for the Kingston, Ont., area, will succeed Dr. David Williams starting June 26.
- With files from Colin Perkel.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press