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Kids heading back to remote learning

Rise in COVID variant cases a concern

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

Durham students are headed back to remote learning next week following the April break.

In a letter to parents, the Durham District School Board says remote learning for all students will begin on Monday, April 19.

“While we understand that this new closure is disappointing news for some and disruptive for everyone, our school teams will be doing our best to support you and your children,” reads the letter.

The announcement that schools would close and switch to remote learning came Monday, April 12, after Premier Doug Ford says getting community transmission under control is a top priority.

Ford says he can’t stress enough that Ontario is at a “critical point,” noting the situation is changing quickly with the spread of the South African variant, the UK variant spreading in India, and the Brazilian variant spreading rapidly in B.C.

“I know this is not what many of want to hear,” says Ford, noting Education Minister Stephen Lecce and his team have done an “incredible job” keeping schools safe.

“But, until we get the numbers in the community down to where we need them… the problem is not in our schools, it is in our community.”

Ford says bringing the kids back to a congregate setting in school after a week off in the community is a risk he is not willing to take.

“We know the more COVID spreads in our communities, the more likely it is to get into the schools,” he continues, adding it would create “massive problems” down the road.

“No one wants their kids in school more than I do,” Ford says. “That’s where they belong.”

However, he says with COVID-19 spreading like “wildfire,” and with the variants taking hold in Ontario the government can’t be too cautious.

“We have to be proactive, and when it comes to keeping our kids safe, I will never take unnecessary risks,” he says.

Lecce says he recognizes the critical importance of in-person learning for students, noting it is key to their mental health, wellbeing and long-term success.

That’s why, he says, the government has worked hard to keep schools safe and to keep them open.

“We’ve been successful in this regard,” says Lecce. Prior to the April break, he says more than 99 per cent of students and staff did not have an active case of COVID-19.

“Medical experts, including our province’s chief medical officer of health, have been clear that with appropriate measures in place, our schools are safe and in school transmission of COVID-19 has remained low,” he says.

However, despite these efforts, he says he recognizes the threat posed by the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, increasing hospitalization, and the pressure on the healthcare system.

“Our government is taking decisive action to keep your child safe,” he says, adding it is a proactive yet necessary precaution as the province continues to tackle the third wave of the pandemic.

Lecce adds schools will be directed to provide continued in-person support for students with special education needs who cannot learn remotely.

Furthermore, childcare for non-school aged children will remain open, and free emergency childcare with the school-aged children of healthcare and frontline workers will be provided during this time.

Lecce says schools will return to in-person learning on the advice of public health experts.

“Know we remain committed to returning to learning in person as soon as it is safe to do so,” he says. “I know that together, we will defeat this pandemic.”