Students in Ontario will learn from home for another month, Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday, noting the risk of a surge of COVID-19 cases tied to classrooms could threaten a broader summer reopening.
While Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce insist their Progressive Conservative government has done all it can to keep schools safe, the premier said he couldn’t ignore scientific advisers warning cases could spike as much as 11 per cent if students go back to class.
“These aren’t risks I’m willing to take,” Ford said. “My heart breaks for them (students), but it would break twice as much if we said the summer's cancelled, there's no activities, no sports teams, no nothing.”
Critics, including the province’s biggest teachers’ unions, argue the government did not invest enough to make schools safe or conduct enough asymptomatic testing to know how much the virus was spreading in schools.
“Ontario is the only province with schools still closed because Doug Ford didn't want to spend the money on smaller classes, better ventilation and testing,” said Andrea Horwath, the leader of the Opposition NDP. “This government needs to make the investments so schools can be reopened safely.”
Ford said the move was not an admission of failure, and had more to do with the danger of a virus variant that first emerged in India and the limited number of students and education workers currently vaccinated.
"We know it is going to spread and then they're going to bring it home and they're going to give it to their parents, give it to the family members, give it to their grandparents and here we go again," he said.
Lecce said the province aims to have second doses delivered to all education workers and students aged 12 and up who want it by a planned return in September.
Schools in Toronto and neighbouring regions shuttered in early April as a third wave of infections raged and were joined by the rest of the province when a stay-at-home order was issued in mid-April.
Despite the extension of closure, schools should also host in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies and other opportunities for students to reconnect before the end of the school year, Ford said in comments directed at students that likely upended the virtual plans of many teachers and administrators.
Ontario will keep its schools closed in June, Premier Doug Ford says, as he extends virtual-only learning until the summer break amid a waning third wave of COVID-19 infections and a vaccine rollout still in progress. #onpoli #OntEd
It is not clear how that would jive with restrictions on gatherings of people not in the same household.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer