Education Minister Stephen Lecce says that his government’s “full commitment” is to keep schools open despite the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the community but he says that students will return to “elevated” infection prevention and control measures following the April break.
There are currently 63 schools across Ontario that have temporarily switched to remote-learning only due to COVID-19, including 10 in Toronto.
But Lecce told reporters on Wednesday that public health experts consulted by his government continue to believe that schools are “overwhelmingly safe” and are not a significant contributor to viral spread.
“What I can assure families is that our intention is to proceed with the April break but we are not going to be reintegrating students back into schools without a heightened level of vigilance on that date so we will bring forth a plan that will highlight and underscore improved safety measures and access to testing that will reduce any potential case entering into our schools,” he said. “We are not resting on our laurels. We are increasing our vigilance and corresponding action to make sure that when a child returns from that break we can do so with confidence that they are not entering with potential cases.”
Lecce’s comments on Wednesday come after the TDSB sent a letter to school principals and vice-principals reminding them of the need to be “ready for the possibility of individual classes, schools or the system moving to remote learning for a period of time,” particularly following the April break.
Speaking with reporters, Lecce conceded that the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community “creates challenges for our schools.” But he said that his government does not believe that it will be necessary to shutter schools for the second time this year.
“The pandemic creates a lot of uncertainty that I know is frustrating for so many parents out there but what I wanted to do in the context of the April break is proceed on the basis it is happening but with a commitment to parents and educators that we are going to be elevating our infection prevention and control measures and out testing access for students and staff because we recognize that numbers are rising in our community,” he said.
The province reported 332 new school-related cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday as the total number since the beginning of the academic year in September surpassed 13,000.