Education Minister confirms students will return to school Monday, January 17

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Renfrew County students and their peers across Ontario will return to class next Monday, January 17.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce confirmed the move in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“I cannot imagine the difficulty families are facing as this pandemic continues,” Lecce said.

“We believe so strongly that children need to be in school, that they are essential to the mental and physical health of a child and to their academic success.”

Reports that students would return on January 17 began circulating Monday.

Warning of a possible “tsunami” of COVID cases in the coming weeks, the province had announced January 3 that schools would remain closed following the Christmas holidays until January 17 as part of a move back to “Step 2” restrictions.

By Monday night, the Canadian Press, CBC, and CTV News all reported that students would return to school as planned next week.

But in a statement early Tuesday, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said a return to in-person schooling under current circumstances is “not a safe way forward.”

“After witnessing the Ford government’s repeated failure to slow the spread of COVID-19, we aren’t surprised by last night’s return-to-class announcement, if we can call it that,” says ETFO president Karen Brown.

“We’re left asking, once again, what has been done to ensure in-person learning can return safely and sustainably, and why isn’t the Ford government consulting with ETFO or sharing its plans with us directly?”

“Throughout this health crisis, the Ford government has demonstrated its complete lack of understanding about how schools work,” ETFO said.

“They have continued to download responsibilities to school boards and public health units that are already overwhelmed.”

“We don’t know how Omicron will impact schools because the majority of students and staff haven’t been in school buildings for over three weeks,” said Brown.

“We’re seeing massive disruption in school systems across America due to staff illness and isolation, and cohorts being collapsed as a result. This is not a safe way forward.”

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