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UPDATE: York schools to stay open, despite Peel and Toronto's shift to remote learning as COVID-19 cases climb

'First to open, last to close,' guiding principle for schools in Ontario Reopening Framework
April 7, 2021

York Region schools will remain open, for now.

York Region Public Health is not following the lead of Peel Region Public Health, and later, Toronto Public Health, which have both announced a Section 22 order closing schools to in-person learning due to the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Instead, York continues to follow the Ontario Reopening Framework’s guiding principle that schools should be "first to open and last to close".

Patrick Casey, the region’s director of corporate communications, said all local school closures to date have been due to operational reasons unrelated to outbreaks (e.g. insufficient number of teaching/administrative staff to keep the school open).

While the region continues to closely monitor all new cases of COVID-19 coming into the community, including variants of concern, Casey said public health is sticking with the province’s plan to prioritize schools, keeping them open throughout all colours of the reopening framework -- even in the Grey-Lockdown Zone or provincewide "emergency brake" shutdown.

Asked at what point the region would decide to require schools pivot to remote learning, Casey said transmission in York Region schools is currently low.

"Our robust case and contact management investigations quickly identify all new cases and ensure they and their close contacts are isolated as quickly as possible, limiting the risk of further transmission," he said.

This "guiding principle" of the province is supported by other organizations, including SickKids, Casey said.

On Apr. 5, Toronto Public Health issued a statement saying students would continue in-person learning while the health unit continued to monitor and asses, but on Apr. 6, announced that students in all Toronto schools will pivot to remote learning Wednesday and for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, education workers and some parent groups are calling for schools to be closed temporarily as an increasing number of cases of COVID-19 variants appear among younger age groups.

Some elementary schools in York Region sent a message to families April 1, advising students to bring all their materials home before Easter.

Many parents sent letters to their school board director and local medical officer of health imploring them to pivot schools to remote learning between Easter and April Break, calling it a "common sense" move to save lives, avoid a longer closure in the future, and a way to avoid last-minute disruptions as schools grapple with staff shortages.

Shameela Shakeel, who runs the Facebook page Families for Safe Schools in York Region, said there is growing anxiety as highly contagious variants are spreading in schools and more variants of concern make their way to Ontario from western Canada.

"The real push by our public health units really should be prioritizing all education workers for vaccines in April (first jab) so they get the second dose in the summer before the next school year," Shakeel, co-chair of York Communities for Public Education, said.

"I wish that York Region Public Health would be a leader in this respect."

Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario also called on the Ford government and public health units in hot spots to take immediate steps, including temporarily moving from in-person to virtual learning