Peel Region shutters schools for 2 weeks, moving to remote learning amid surge in COVID-19 cases

·3 min read
Peel Region shutters schools for 2 weeks, moving to remote learning amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Schools in Brampton, Caledon, and Mississauga will be closed for the next two weeks, after Peel Public Health issued a Section 22 order under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act.

Under the order, learning will be remote only beginning 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday and lasting at least until the end of day on April 18. Decisions on whether to extend the order "will be made, as required," Peel Public Health said in a statement.

"This closure is a necessary step," Dr. Lawrence Loh, the region's medical officer of health, said in the release.

"I know this will be challenging for parents to navigate and we appreciate all the sacrifices parents continue to make as we continue to fight COVID-19 in our community."

On Monday, the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health unit also said it would close all schools effective on Wednesday. The closure affects schools in Guelph, Wellington County and Dufferin County.

The decision comes as Ontario reported 2,938 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 3,041 new cases on Sunday. New cases on Monday include 533 in Peel Region, according to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott.

"This closure will allow students and staff at least two weeks out of schools to break any chains of transmission and protect them from exposure," Peel Public Health said in the statement.

"All April Break spring camps for school-age children will be cancelled."

A spokesperson for Toronto Public Health said the public health unit is not looking at issuing its own Section 22 order at this time.

"TPH will continue to manage risk on a school-by-school basis, taking immediate and appropriate action to address these complex outbreaks," TPH said in an email on Monday.

"This decision will be revisited on a daily basis, and further recommendations may be made in the near future in partnership with our local school boards and the province. TPH will continue to recommend early dismissal for individual schools upon investigation to protect students, staff, teachers and school communities."

Peel Region's decision follows speculation about a possible return to remote learning throughout the province, with some school boards urging students and teachers to take learning materials home before the Easter long weekend just in case.

Peel's decision to close their schools runs contrary to Premier Doug Ford's decision to keep schools open throughout the province, saying that to close them would be disastrous for children's mental health.

Caitlin Clark, a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said: "Schools remain safe with strong public health measures in place."

"It is our firm belief that schools should be open for in-class learning, as they are critical to student mental health," Clark said.

"Due to our strong infection prevention measures, 99 per cent of students and staff have no active cases of COVID-19, however we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open."

In Peel Region, licensed child care programs will stay open for children younger than six years old who are not in school programs, per the release.

In a statement, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, director of education for the Peel District School Board, said the board "respects the decision" of the health unit.

"The health and safety of students and staff in schools, along with a strong commitment to student learning, continue to be our main focus," Russell-Rawlins said.

She said spring break will happen, as planned, during the week of April 12 to 16.

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