On June 2, the provincial government announced that children will not be returning to in-class learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 year.
The announcement was made by Premier Ford, Stephen Lecce, minister of education, and Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health, saying “this will allow the province to continue its focus on accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations to support a safer summer and return to in-person learning in September for the 2021-22 school year.”
“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” said Premier Ford. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association released a statement on June 2, stating it was disappointed with the government’s decision to “go against the advice of Public Health Officials and the recommendation of school boards about the importance of reopening our schools,” said OPSBA president Cathy Abraham.
Schools will remain open for in-person learning for special education students who cannot be accommodated through remote learning until the end of June. Mental health resources are available to students, parents and families through their school board as well as through other providers, including Kids Help Phone, which offers 24/7 counselling and referral services across the province. Other resources available include School Mental Health Ontario and services through child and youth mental health agencies across the province.
Emergency child care will continue until the end of June. Before and after school programs remain closed and will continue to not charge parent fees, which is prohibited during the remote learning period. Licensed child care centres may resume serving school-aged children for full-days in programming over the summer months, in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s health and safety guidance. Before and after school programs that operate as a camp over the summer, will be permitted to do so, and will follow health and safety guidance from the Ministry of Health.
The Bruce-Grey Catholic School Board issued a statement confirming that remote learning would continue until the end of this school year and thanks families for their continued patience, support and understanding.
“Our students, families and staff have worked very hard during this online, remote learning period and we look forward to bringing a positive close to the end of the school year,” said Gary O’Donnell, director of education for the board. “Families may have many questions about picking up personal items, returning textbooks and chrome books, etc. Now that we have final confirmation that schools will not open to in person learning, we will prepare our plans for closing out the school year and communicate that information with our families.”
The Bluewater District School Board issued a similar statement, encouraging parents to reach out to their children’s schools with their questions, and indicated communication will follow regarding collecting belongings from schools and year-end recognitions.
“I know that our amazing educators and administrators will continue to do their very best to make these final few weeks of the school year engaging and memorable,” said director of education Lori Wilder. “Finally, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts, collaboration, and patience of all our parents/guardians in supporting your children over this most recent period of remote learning. I know that I speak for many of our staff in expressing deep appreciation for your commitment and cooperation despite many competing family responsibilities. THANK YOU!”
The premier also said students in all grades, who have worked very hard through this pandemic, should be allowed to celebrate graduating from one level to the next and asked schools and school boards to arrange for graduation ceremonies whereever possible.
The province said it will allow school boards to invite graduating students in elementary schools (by class) and secondary schools (by homeroom/quadmestered class) to return to school in June for a short, outdoor celebration, where physical distancing is possible. Many questions have been raised about organizing such events in such a short time period and during a time when restrictions have limited outdoor gatherings to no more than five people at one time.
“As we approach the end of the school year, school boards are concerned about the apparent contradiction between the decision to close schools and the directive from the Premier to hold in-person graduations,” said Abraham. “Our members have already been doing all they can to ensure that we are able to recognize the many students who will be graduating this year and will continue to do their best to support our students and staff through these challenging times.”
Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent