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Ontario schools to reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 17

Ontario schools will reopen for in-person learning on Jan. 17, a spokesperson for the Doug Ford government confirmed to CP24 Monday.

​​Schools in the province were first set to return on Jan. 3, but the government initially delayed the return to classrooms to Jan. 5, claiming the two extra days would give schools time to provide N95 masks to staff and to deploy 3,000 more HEPA filter units.

Last week, the government announced that it would instead have kids learn remotely until at least Jan. 17.

The decision to close schools was made amid surging COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, which has seen hospitals faced with higher than usual patient volumes and staff shortages.

“These two weeks will provide much-needed time for more vaccines and boosters,” Ford said at the time.

“It’s more time for additional public health measures to blunt the rapid rise in cases. I know online learning isn’t ideal, but above all else, I want to provide students and parents with certainty, not the turmoil of school closures because not enough staff are available to teach our kids.”

On Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued a statement in response to the reopening announcement, claiming that the government is doing “as much as [it] can to improve ventilation, provide high-quality PPE and expand access to vaccinations.”

“We have now shipped 9.1 million non-fitted N95 masks for staff and over four million three-ply masks for students and will regularly send new shipments over the coming weeks and months, with masking being mandatory within Ontario schools,” he said.

Lecce also said the province has accelerated access to booster shots for education and child care staff, deployed an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units to schools and made symptomatic elementary and secondary students and education staff eligible for take-home PCR testing.

“Recognizing the challenges posed by the Omicron, these measures will help stabilize the school workforce as we continue to do everything we can to keep kids learning,” he said.

On Monday, Lecce also announced that retired Ontario educators would be allowed to work more days this school year to address staff shortages.

"We need staff in order to continue providing live teacher-led remote learning and safely operate our schools when students return to in-person learning," Lecce's statement read.

"That is why we have now secured an agreement with the Ontario Teachers' Federation that will deliver access to thousands of teacher-qualified educators that will help keep schools open and safe."

Later on Monday, Ontario’s Big City Mayors (OBCM) passed a motion saying they are in support of calls from pediatric experts and parents to resume in-person classes.

The motion was moved by Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson, seconded by Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and passed unanimously.

On Dec. 31, the Ontario government outlined in a memo that it would no longer be collecting COVID-19 case data from schools and child-care settings, citing new testing guidelines.

"Given recent changes to case and contact management by the Ministry of Health and OCMOH (Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health), the ministry will suspend reporting of COVID-19 cases in schools," the memo obtained by CP24 read.

While case counts will no longer be posted, the ministry said it will continue to report school and child-care closures due to COVID-19.

According to the most recent provincial data, 46.7 per cent of children aged five to 11 have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 3.5 per cent have received two doses and are considered to be fully vaccinated.

Just over 86 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 have had one dose of a vaccine, while 82.6 per cent have received two.

The province reported Monday that there are now at least 2,467 patients with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals, with 438 in intensive care.

With files from CP24’s Bryann Aguilar and The Canadian Press. Top Stories

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