TORONTO – Elementary students in Ontario will be learning from home for two additional weeks. The provincial government announced this afternoon (January 7th) that Kindergarten to Grade 8 students who were slated to return to in-person classes January 11th, will now return January 25th.
The province cited increased COVID-19 positivity rates in children under the age of 14 and the rising overall numbers in its decision to keep students home for two additional weeks. There has been no change to the January 25th return-to-school plan for secondary students.
Ontario began a province-wide 28-day lockdown on Boxing Day. Elementary students were to return to in-person learning on Monday, while secondary students (Grades 9-12) are set to return to in-person learning on January 25th. The provincial lockdown measures are set to expire at the end of day, January 23rd.
"With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe," said Premier Ford in a press release. "That's why we're extending the remote learning period for students in Southern Ontario. We have to get the numbers down and today's measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus."
The province is nearly two weeks into the four week shutdown and COVID-19 levels remain over 3,000 new cases per day.
"I have and remain firmly committed to getting students back into class as soon as possible - there is nothing more important. However, the best medical and scientific experts have been clear: while schools have been safe places for kids, the sharp rise in community transmission puts that progress and Ontario families at risk," said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce.
During his January 5th media conference, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said he was on the fence whether sending students back to school on January 11th was a good idea.
"I'm not too keen on closing the schools longer, but I'm not saying we shouldn't close them," Roumeliotis said adding that schools in the EOHU have not been sources of infection.
He said that what has been noted in the region where there has been a high level of community transmission, some schools have been unable to operate because of staff being out sick.
"If you are going to open the schools, and then get that, you may as well close them," Roumeliotis explained.
Before the Christmas Break, there had been several schools with isolated cases of COVID-19 infection, but very few outbreaks declared. An outbreak is declared in a school when two or more cases are detected in a school and those infections are connected. Most infections have been people who were infected in the community and then entered the school ill.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader