TORONTO — As the Delta B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India begins to take hold in Ontario, the provincial government announced today that they have made the “difficult decision” to continue with remote learning for all elementary and secondary students across the province for the remainder of this school year. Details were provided today by Premier Ford, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.
“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” said Premier Ford. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”
Recent modelling presented by the Science Advisory Table revealed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases. It is unknown how many of these would be the new, more dangerous B.1.617.2 variant, which entered the province through Canada’s borders. The government explained that an increase in cases and the spread of variants would threaten Ontarians’ hard-fought progress in beating the third wave and could delay the safe return to many summer activities for kids.
“While this decision was not made lightly, it has been done with one aim: protect the summer for families and deliver a stable and safe September for students,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We are looking forward and taking action by getting all education workers and students vaccinated with both doses ahead of September, while investing an additional $2 billion to ensure students and staff are safe.”
School boards will continue to have safety plans in place for students who are experiencing or could be expected to experience mental health challenges. Students, parents and families also have a number of mental health resources that are available to them through their school board as well as through other providers, including Kids Help Phone, which offers 24/7 counselling and referral services across the province, as well as resources through School Mental Health Ontario and services through child and youth mental health agencies across the province.
“The decision to continue online learning comes after the government listened to the medical experts and stakeholders,” said Jim McDonell, MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry. “The decision didn’t come lightly, but I believe also it is the best decision at this time to keep children, staff and their families safe, especially with the arrival of the new variant of concern. I encourage children and parents to use the resources available to promote mental health as we look forward to having families taking part in the increased number of recreational activities available this summer.
Vaccines remain the best defence against COVID-19. Youth aged 12 and over are currently eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the provincial booking system and call centre, as well as at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine.