Ontario schools are set to open across the province on Monday, February 8, with schools in Toronto, Peel and York opening the following week on February 16, after Family Day.
On Wednesday, during a press conference, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made the announcement.
The decision was made based on advice from Williams and the unanimous recommendations of the Council of Medical Officers of Health.
“I want to be clear that safety has and will always drive our decisions,” Lecce said. “I will not put your child at risk.”
Lecce said there has been a consistent decline in community transmission across the province, confirming to experts that Ontario schools are ready to open.
Williams added that the COVID-19 cases in the hotspots are still high and need to be closely monitored.
When asked why other hotspots are allowed to open on February 8, but Toronto, Peel, and York are not, Williams said that it was done in consultation with the local medical officers of health and their school boards.
With Toronto, Peel, and York being the biggest jurisdictions, the local officers of health felt it prudent to wait an extra week.
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To follow the safe return of in-person learning, Ontario has introduced new measures to continue to protect students and staff against COVID-19, which include:
- Province-wide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff
- Mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and making it a requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained
- Providing 3.5 million cloth masks to schools as a back-up supply for Grades 1-12
- Enhanced screening for secondary students and staff
- Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school
- Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism
“Today’s announcement of the reopening of all schools to in-person learning over the next two weeks is good news for Ontario students and their families,” the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said in a statement.
“We cannot ignore the impacts that the removal of critical face-to-face contact for students and their teachers has had on students across Ontario. The social benefits of attending school are critical for many students and, as we saw in Spring 2020, some will likely see negative impacts on their mental health, learning progress, and development.”