Ontario education minister to announce at 4 p.m. when rest of schools will reopen

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to announce on Wednesday afternoon when schools in 16 public health regions in the southern half of the province will reopen for in-person learning.

Lecce indicated on Monday that he would provide parents with “certainty” about reopening dates. The government says he will speak at 4 p.m. ET before taking questions from reporters. CBC News will carry that news confrerence live in this story.

“We want all students in all regions back to class,” Lecce said in a tweet.

Dr. David Willams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has confirmed to Premier Doug Ford that he would finalize his advice on Wednesday about how schools still closed can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s COVID-19 case counts have been unreliable due to data entry issues, though there has been a decline in the number of cases in the wake of the province’s stay-at-home order. On Wednesday, the province recorded 1,172 new infections and reported 67 more deaths linked to the virus

All elementary and secondary school students began January with online learning as part of a provincial lockdown. Since then, the provincial government has taken a staggered approach to reopening physical classrooms.

Investments needed to make schools safe, NDP says

NDP education critic Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport, said on Tuesday that the reopening must be accompanied by public health measures to ensure the schools can remain open. She said parents, education workers and students are eagerly awaiting the announcement.

“What I’m looking for, though, is not just clarity about when kids are going to be returning to school,” Stiles told CBC News.

“What I want is the government to spend the dollars that they have been hoarding on action. Small class sizes, paid sick leave, in school testing — anything less is a recipe for future school closures.”

Stiles said the province has not spent the full $381 million of COVID-19 relief funds recently received from the federal government.

She said investments are needed to keep schools safe because of high daily case counts and new COVID-19 variants in circulation. Ventilation in schools should be improved and education workers should be vaccinated as front-line workers, she added.

“The success of the announcement really is going to depend on what investment and action this government is willing to take to ensure that our schools are safe when they reopen,” she added. “Anything less than that will be a failure.”

Province has said it will expand testing

On Monday, Lecce said the province plans to expand COVID-19 testing for students and that it will allow school boards to bring in student teachers to fill supply roles as more schools reopen amid the second wave of the pandemic. 

Officials said the targeted testing will be available in all public health units where students have returned to class. They said they expect that Ontario can complete up to 25,000 laboratory-processed and 25,000 on-site, rapid antigen tests per week but offered no timeline on how long it could take to get to that level.

Expansion of the testing program accompanies the injection of another $381 million Ottawa recently released as part of Phase 2 of the Federal Safe Return to Class Fund. A previous $381 million in federal funds for school reopenings came last August.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, right, walk in a hallway at Father Leo J. Austin Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont. in July 2020. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

On Jan. 11, students resumed in-person learning in all northern Ontario public health units. On Jan. 25, students in some areas of southern Ontario went back to in-person class. 

On Feb. 1, students in four public health units — Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Ottawa and Southwestern — were able to resume in-person learning.

A total of 520,000 students were able to learn in person in Ontario as of Monday, according to the ministry.

Wednesday’s decision will affect schools in the following public health units:

  • Brant County Health Unit.
  • Chatham-Kent Public Health.
  • City of Hamilton Public Health Services.
  • Durham Region Health Department.
  • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
  • Halton Region Public Health.
  • Huron Perth Public Health.
  • Lambton Public Health.
  • Niagara Region Public Health.
  • Peel Region Public Health.
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
  • Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit.
  • Toronto Public Health.
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
  • Windsor-Essex County Health.
  • York Region Public Health.

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