OHS Canada Magazine

Southern Ontario schools to remain closed for in-person learning until Jan. 25


New data has caused concern about reopening schools in Ontario. (Halfpoint/Adobe Stock)

This story has been updated.

By Shawn Jeffords

TORONTO — All schools in southern Ontario will remain closed for in-person learning until Jan. 25, a move the province’s top doctor said was needed to protect students and staff from surging rates of COVID-19.

Dr. David Williams said Thursday that students in 27 southern regions would be taught entirely online as the government looked at adding new safety measures in schools.

“I know this is a tough one,” Williams said of the extended closure. “This is tough for everyone.”

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All students are currently learning online as part of a provincial lockdown that began Boxing Day.

Elementary students in southern Ontario were supposed to return to schools next week, along with all students in northern Ontario.

The province said northern Ontario students will still return to in-person classes on Monday, but a lockdown in that region that was to lift this weekend will be extended for two weeks.

New safety measures coming

Ontario’s education minister will announce new safety measures for schools in the coming days, Williams said.

The extended closure was announced as Ontario reported 3,519 new cases of COVID-19 and 89 more deaths — both daily highs for the province.

Premier Doug Ford said earlier Thursday that he received new data that indicates COVID-19 positivity rates amongst children have been increasing.

“The No. 1 priority is not to put our kids in jeopardy and I will never do that, especially at the rates we’re seeing,” Ford said during an appearance at a Toronto hospital.

Ford defended his government’s plan for schools during the pandemic, stressing that the virus is being transmitted in the community and through family gatherings.

Teacher burnout a worry amid new-look safety protocols

On Wednesday, the province’s largest teachers’ union had called on all local public health units to reconsider reopening elementary schools next week.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which represents 83,000 educators, said health units should use their authority to intervene, especially where transmission rates are high.

Windsor-Essex County’s top doctor had said Thursday morning that he was recommending schools in that region remain closed until Jan. 23.

The region has reported over 9,000 total cases of COVID-19, surpassing Toronto in regional case rates per population, just behind Peel Region.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the province should not reopen schools in the hardest hit regions without additional safety measures in place.

“That means making immediate investments in a ramped up, robust in-school asymptomatic testing program, and capping class sizes at 15, so everyone in schools can physically distance,” Horwath said in a statement.

With files from Denise Paglinawan