Ontario schools to shut down for two weeks after March Break to fight the spread of COVID-19
March 13, 2020
Ontario schools will be shut down for two weeks following the March Break to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
The unprecedented move by the Ford government -- believed to be a first for the province, and country -- begins March 23 and impacts the province’s more than two million students.
“I want every parent and family to know with confidence that when their child returns to school, they will be in a safe and healthy learning environment,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday afternoon.
Lecce, speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park, noted there will be “additional resources for sanitation and hygiene products” so schools are thoroughly cleaned between March Break, which starts Monday, and before students return to class April 6.
He also said measures will be introduced in the days ahead so kids can still learn online.
“With respect to how do we achieve the continuity of learning, I’m committing to parents that (a program) is being finalized,” he said.
Lecce issued the ministerial order to shutter the province’s 4,800 public schools based on the recommendation of Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said “the decision to close Ontario’s schools to contain the spread of COVID-19 was not an easy one, and I support it.”
However, she said parents will be scrambling to arrange child care if they cannot take time off.
“Two million kids will be out of school and hundreds of thousands of parents will be home from work,” she said. “Parents need to be assured that they can stay home with their kids, and that they will not lose a paycheque -- and cannot be fired -- for doing that.”
If parents stay home from work, it “will create a ripple right through our province. TTC drivers are moms and dads. Health-care staff have children of their own. Small business owners have children.”
Earlier this week, the New Brunswick government banned any staff or students who travel outside of Canada -- including to the United States -- from its schools and daycares for two weeks.
The English Montreal School Board has told staff and students who have travelled to the hardest-hit countries to stay home, even if they feel fine.
Many boards in Ontario have already cancelled all international school trips.
As of Thursday, more than 10,600 American schools -- public and private -- had been closed or are set to close, according to EdWeek.
The online education journal reported that more than 4.6 million students are now impacted and “schools are closing for many reasons related to coronavirus, including exposures, cleaning, or planning for extended closures.”
Around the world, about 40 countries have shuttered some or all schools. France has just announced all schools and universities will be shuttered.
In 2009, during the swine flu pandemic, a number of public schools in Manitoba, New Brunswick and Montreal closed for a short time.
Earlier Thursday in Ottawa, Premier Doug Ford said while the situation was fluid, he wanted Ontarians to enjoy their March Break.
“It can change at any day. But I just want the families and their children to have a good time,” the premier said. “Go away, have a good time, enjoy yourself, and we’re going to be monitoring the situation as it changes every single day. But I just want them to enjoy themselves just now.”
Ford’s comments came hours before the first ministers’ meeting was cancelled after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, went into self-isolation to await a coronavirus test.
Mississauga mother Rachelle Manios, who has daughters in Grades 5 and 7, thinks closing schools is “excessive,” but it doesn’t bother her.
She wondered how school boards will respond, saying “my kids have a legal right to be educated. Is the school board going to now be supplying online education for my girls?”
Toronto parent Stephanie Kirby, who has two children in public school, said “we’re in uncharted territory and I feel we all have something to lose in this so we need to take precautions wherever we can.”
Kirby, who works part-time, said “my kids were supposed to be going way on a trip (to Paris) with my parents and we decided a couple of days ago to cancel.”
Among post-secondary institutions, Laurentian University in Sudbury suspended all classes as of March 11, moving courses online for the remainder of the semester. Other colleges and universities say they are currently monitoring the situation.
Statement From Premier Ford Minister Elliott and Minister Lecce on Covid 19 by Toronto Star on Scribd
A number of American universities have already stopped classes and are moving online, including Harvard and Yale.
In the legislature Thursday, NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles said “school boards are already taking extra precautions to guard against outbreaks. Custodians are logging extra hours. Extra cleaning and sanitizing supplies are being ordered. But at a time when we’ve seen school boards squeezed and custodial staff laid off, the government needs to be prepared to provide resources as necessary.”
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented and rapidly evolving event that requires an unprecedented response.”
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said all daycare centres need to adopt strict screening of parents and children at the daily drop-off -- with the same rigour that nursing homes and retirement homes have been directed to use in screening staff, visitors and volunteers -- to keep sick children out and help prevent any spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Ask the parents, ‘is your child well and have you been on any trips lately in the last 14 days?’ And if you have I would rather you not bring your child in today and wait until after that 14-day period,” he told reporters. “I’m giving guidance and direction to do that.”