TORONTO -- Publicly-funded schools in Ontario will remain closed until at least May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement Sunday afternoon, saying that the extension of the closure was based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other officials at the COVID-19 command table.
“The extension will provide the province more time, sufficient time to review the data and the modelling so that we can make the best decision based on the best medical advice and ensure that ultimately students remain safe and staff remain safe should they return to school at some point this year or at any point beyond,” Lecce said.
The government originally shut down schools for two weeks following March Break in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. They proceeded to extend the closure and schools were slated to reopen to students on May 4.
However, about two weeks ago the premier said it was not likely students would return by that date due to the province’s extension of the state of emergency until May 12.
The government says that newest extension—that would see teachers return two days earlier on May 29—is meant to give officials time to review updated modelling data.
Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park Sunday afternoon, Lecce said that the government does not plan on extending the school year into the summer. “Students right now completed three fourths of their school year in class. We built a program that gets them to the finish line for the next quarter” Lecce said, alluding to the province’s online learning tools set up to help bridge the learning gap. “At this point we do not see a need to extend the school year.” In the event that schools are able to reopen in June, Lecce said that all professional activity (PA) days will be replaced with instructional time. The government will also expand their summer learning program to focus on credit recovery and support for vulnerable students. Lecce promised that students will still receive their final grades regardless of whether schools reopen. Lecce stressed that the school year has not yet been cancelled indefinitely, but the province is looking into programs for “every eventuality.” “If students return at some point later this year my commitment is to come back here and communicate to you how I will ensure every parent in this province that we can ensure the safety of your child,” he said. “If it involves changing how classrooms are structured or designed we will look at that. We have a duty and responsibility to be open to every idea to achieve safety.” Ontario’s New Democratic Party education critic said that while she agrees schools should remain closed as recommended by health officials, she felt like the province’s announcement lacked transparency and clarity. “I think that a lot of families would want a little bit more clarity about what the expectations are this year,” Marit Stiles said, adding that many families she has spoken to say they are anxious about the situation. He also said that he hopes to provide a “final update” regarding the future of the school year before May 31.