Ontario schools will not be closed due to possible spike in COVID-19 infections: Lecce
Published Tuesday, September 6, 2022 9:50AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, September 6, 2022 11:35AM EDT
Ontario’s education minister guaranteed Tuesday that students will be in the classroom until the end of June regardless of whether or not the province experiences a spike in COVID-19 infections.
Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday morning, Stephen Lecce said his office’s number one priority is to keep kids in school.
“Our health and safety protocols have been designed by the chief medical officer of health to really to mitigate disruption to keep them in person learning,” he said.
“All this is designed to keep these kids in school from September right to June without disruption with the full learning experience, which includes the clubs and sports.”
The measures Lecce mentions are all part of the province’s back-to-school plan and include protocols already put in place prior to the 2022-2023 school year, including the instalment of additional HEPA filters, enhanced cleaning, self-screening of students and staff and the provision of rapid antigen tests for those who want them.
However, despite being asked multiple times, Lecce would not say if there is a contingency plan in case of either a severe COVID-19 outbreak within a school or if the province experiences a significant rise of infection.
“The chief medical officer of health has designed a program that is really all with the aim of keeping kids in school without disruption that includes more normalcy. I mean, that is the policy commitment of this government after two difficult years for kids.”
He added that if a serious rise in cases happens, it will be the responsibility of local public health units to provide guidance.
“We did this in the spring without impact,” he said. “We were able to demonstrate to families in May and June kids can get back into more normal setting and still remain safe.”
"I assure that they are going to stay in school right to June."
For the first time since 2020, students are returning to the classroom in the fall without any COVID-19 restrictions. Masking is a suggestion, not a requirement, and students are being asked to self-assess their symptoms at home rather than fill out a form every day.
The province also changed mandatory self-isolation rules for individuals with COVID-19 last week. Instead of being required to stay home for at least five days when ill, individuals are being encouraged to self-isolate until 24 hours after their symptoms stop.
At that point those individuals, including kids attending school, can resume their social activities—regardless of whether they test positive on a rapid test. Officials are encouraging ill individuals to wear masks for 10 days after they finish their voluntary self-isolation.
Both the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation have expressed concern that allowing potentially contagious kids and educators attend class could cause the virus to spread faster.
“A proper recovery plan that will restore true stability will require the government to stop making changes with no warning, without consultation, with little funding and with insufficient training for staff,” OSSTF President Karen Littlewood said Tuesday.
“Stability also requires the (Doug) Ford government to make real investments in public education, investments that will ensure a robust learning experience in a stable environment with access to the supports and services that students need.”