Elementary and secondary schools in most of Ontario, except for Toronto, Peel and York, will reopen next Monday, the province announced on Wednesday.
Students in those remaining three regions will resume in-class learning the following week, on Feb. 16, said Education Minister Stephen Lecce.
“Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success,” Mr. Lecce said in a statement.
Ontario is the only province that has kept many of its schools closed to in-person learning amid rising COVID-19 infection rates. Students in 18 out of 35 public-health units in the province have returned to classrooms since the December holiday break, including those in Ottawa and London, who were back on Monday.
There are few more divisive issues in this pandemic than keeping classrooms open. Almost a year in, there is still no conclusive evidence regarding transmission in schools and to what extent children drive the spread of the virus. Public-health officials are also concerned with the emergence of more contagious variants of the virus.
The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention suggested in a recent paper that outbreaks in schools have been “limited,” but highlighted that in order to keep them open, community transmission must be under control and mitigation strategies, including masks, must be implemented.
In a recent updated school guidance document, Ontario’s largest pediatric hospitals said children need to be back learning in classrooms as soon as possible, emphasizing that more robust testing and infection-control strategies would need to be in place for that to happen. The document, led by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said delays to in-person learning “must be as time-limited as possible” given the harmful social, developmental and academic impacts on children.
Earlier, Mr. Lecce has said his government has introduced a slew of new measures so students can return to the classroom. Among them, his government has mandated masks for students in Grades 1 to 3, not just those in Grades 4 and up. Several boards, including Toronto and Halton, had already mandated masks for all students in the fall.
He also said the government has also enhanced screening guidelines for entry into school buildings, which several boards previously had in place. Further, Mr. Lecce said there will be an expansion of testing for students and staff that would be directed by local public-health units.
– More to come
This article first published here www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-most-ontario-schools-will-return-to-in-class-learning-on-monday/