Renfrew County classrooms will remain empty until at least the beginning of September after Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that the province’s schools will not reopen this June.
Ford said the government will work with school boards to allow outdoor graduation ceremonies for all grades, not just Grades 8 and 12, but insisted it’s too risky to send children back to indoor learning until more students and teachers are vaccinated.
“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter step one of our ‘Roadmap to Reopen,’ we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” Ford said in the announcement
“Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”
Ford said recent modelling by the Science Advisory Table revealed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning, the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases.
“An increase in cases and the spread of variants would also threaten Ontarians’ hard-fought progress in beating the third wave and could delay the safe return to many summer activities for kids, including day and overnight camps, sports leagues and public pools, among other important activities that support children’s physical and mental wellbeing,” the announcement said.
The province reported 733 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, after 699 new cases Tuesday. The seven-day average has fallen below 1,000 to 978, the lowest mark since November 4 last year.
“While this decision was not made lightly, it has been done with one aim: protect the summer for families and deliver a stable and safe September for students,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“We are looking forward and taking action by getting all education workers and students vaccinated with both doses ahead of September, while investing an additional $2 billion to ensure students and staff are safe.”
The province said its plan supports the “largest investment in mental health and the largest summer learning program in Ontario history, with supports available to students through the summer and when they return to in-person learning in September.”
“The government is working to ensure that students can look forward to a return to normal and enjoy outdoor and extracurricular activities as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Ford acknowledged that many health experts have urged the province to allow schools to reopen on a regional basis.
Renfrew County and District acting medical officer of health Dr. Robert Cushman wrote to John Yakabuski last week urging the local MPP and Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to “strongly advocate” in support of reopening the county’s schools.
“The collateral damage of not being in school, the devastating impact on learning, and the mounting concerns about mental health, far outweigh the risks of additional cases of COVID-19,” he wrote.
“Schools in RCD can, and must, reopen for the remaining weeks of the school year. Our schools are safe, and students need to be in the classroom.”
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