Ontario schools will not have an extended winter break
TORONTO -- Ontario schools will not have an extended winter break, despite provincial officials hinting at it a day earlier when discussing possible new COVID-19 measures for 2021.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that after consultation with health officials, the province will not mandate an extended school closure around the holidays.
“We have consulted with the chief medical officer of health as well as the Public Health Measures Table and have determined that an extended winter holiday is not necessary at this time, given Ontario’s strong safety protocols, low levels of transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce said.
“We are fully committed to building upon our national leading plan to keep kids learning and safe. We will continue to consider any option and take decisive action to ensure we deliver on this shared priority of keeping schools open in January and beyond.”
The statement comes a day after the minister said the government was considering an extended school closure as part of a “comprehensive” announcement set to be unveiled in the next week or two. Speaking to reporters following Question Period on Tuesday, Lecce said that he is looking at “solutions that may include some period out of class” as part of a strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the new year.
"The announcement we will unveil will be comprehensive and include a variety of elements, one of which can include something like an extended closure and online learning experience,” Lecce said on Tuesday.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford seemed to backtrack on those comments at his daily news conference later that day, saying that “it may not happen.”
In Lecce’s Wednesday statement, he says that schools “have been remarkable successful at minimizing outbreaks” and that the government is focused on building on that progress.
NDP Education Critic Marit Styles questioned why the idea of a extended school closure was so quickly rejected a day after it was mentioned to the public.
“The minister should talk about what it was that lead to those comments yesterday and that speculation and why that changed today,” she told reporters at a news conference following Lecce’s statement. “We have cases in this province skyrocketing.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s news conference, Premier Doug Ford said that it was Ontario Medical Officer of Health Fr. David Williams who quickly rejected the idea of an extended winter break. The premier also reiterated that schools are the “safest place for kids.”
“He (Lecce) showed it to Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams came back and said ‘no, this is the safest place,’ again reacting quickly, being decisive right away,” Ford said. “We want to come out here today and say that the kids will be in school.”
The announcement came on the same day Toronto reported its first school staff member to die after contracting COVID-19. The Toronto Catholic School Board confirmed the staff member was a child youth worker had tested positive earlier this week and died Wednesday morning.
There were 109 cases of COVID-19 reported in Ontario schools in the last 24 hours.
Since schools reopened in mid-September, there have been a total of 3,626 lab-confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 within those facilities and 639 in licensed child-care establishments.
As of Wednesday, there are 670 publicly-funded schools with a case of COVID-19 and three schools that are closed as a result of the disease.