Extending winter school break 'not necessary,' Ontario education minister says

WATCH: The threat of another lockdown looms as Ontario's COVID-19 infections rise. But both parents and the province say they are not keen on shutting down schools. Mike Drolet explains why school closures are complicated, even if they pose a potential health risk.

Ontario students won’t have a longer winter break after all, with the province saying Wednesday that its COVID-19 protocols for schools are enough to keep kids safe at this time.

A day after saying the government was considering a prolonged break or starting the new year with a stretch of online learning, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that an extended holiday break is “not necessary.”

“We will continue to consider any option and take decisive action to ensure we deliver on this shared priority of keeping schools open in January and beyond,” Lecce said in a statement.

“As we safeguard the progress we’ve made in our schools, we will continue to closely monitor all indicators, trends and numbers to protect the safety of our children, their families and all frontline staff in Ontario’s schools.”

Read more:
Ontario government considering extending winter break in schools amid coronavirus pandemic

Lecce said the government had consulted the province’s top doctor and its public health measures table before arriving at the decision.

Some education administrators have called for a delayed return to in-class learning, noting school is slated to start up again only a few days after New Year’s Eve and it’s likely students and staff will have had increased social contacts over the holidays.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles said the government’s change in direction on the winter break is causing anxiety for families.

“This is exhausting for parents,” she said. “Parents were wondering what this means, what they’re supposed to do? It’s really hard to keep track of where this government is going and their plans.”

Liberal House Leader John Fraser said it’s clear the government was “floating an idea” of an extended winter break and they weren’t upfront with parents.

“They could have been more transparent,” he said. “They should have said ‘if we don’t get COVID under control, this is what we may have to do.”’

Ontario reported 109 new COVID-19 cases related to schools on Wednesday, including at least 92 among students.

Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 670 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

Meanwhile, the province reported 1,417 new cases of COVID-19 overall on Wednesday, and 32 new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 463 new cases are in Peel Region, 410 cases are in Toronto, and 178 are in York Region.

The province said 26 of the new deaths reported Wednesday are in long-term care homes.

It also said 678 nursing home residents currently have COVID-19, and 100 of the province’s 626 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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