By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
Students will continue learning virtually for two more weeks.
Ontario Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams says reopening schools for in-class instruction is being deferred for two weeks due to the continued rise in COVID-19 cases.
Students are now scheduled to return back to school on Jan. 25, which aligns with the plan for the return of in-person learning for secondary schools students.
According to provincial standards, students are required to complete a certain amount of time of synchronous (RealTime) and asynchronous (FlexTime) learning.
Students in kindergarten are required to complete 180 minutes a day, while students in Grades 1 through 8 are required to complete 225 minutes a day.
“We acknowledge that for some students, especially those in younger grades, that the number of RealTime (synchronous) learning hours may be long. Educators will be working with families to provide some flexibility for students who need it,” states the Durham District School Board (DDSB).
“While we understand that the extended closure is disappointing news for some, please know that school teams will be doing their best to support parents and their children during this time.”
According to the province, targeted testing done among students and staff in December 2020 confirmed that schools “are not a significant source of transmission.”
However, with students having been at home for several weeks, the province says the positivity rate among school-aged children has “increased sharply.”
“We want to get the schools open and we want them to stay open,” says Watson, adding schools are ‘that important.”
“We do not want to let the current high levels of community transmission, which is very disappointing, and one we have to really work hard at getting down, because you can see it’s impacting our most valuable resources,” Watson continues. “It’s impacting our long-term care homes, it’s impacting our health care system, and it’s impacting our school attendance at this time.”
The province states the positivity rate for kids aged 12 to 13 years old increased from 5.44 per cent in late November, early December to nearly 20 per cent in early January.
According to the Ministry of Education, returning students to school now with community transmission and positivity rates so high risks losing the hard-fought progress made in keeping schools and students safe.
“I have remained firmly committed to getting students back into class as soon as possible – there is nothing more important,” states Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, noting the medical and scientific experts have been clear.
“While schools have been safe places for kids, the sharp rise in community transmission puts that progress and Ontario families at risk,” Lecce continues. “During this time, students will remain engaged in live teacher-led online learning with access to enhanced mental health and technology supports.”
While students in Southern Ontario will have to continue learning online for two more weeks, students in Northern Ontario will be heading back to school for in-person learning starting Jan. 11 as cases in those regions are much lower than those in the south.
However, due to the continued daily rise in cases overall, Northern Ontario, which was originally set to come out of the province-wide lockdown on Jan. 11, will remain in lockdown until Jan. 25 along with the rest of the province
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” says Premier Doug Ford. “That’s why we’re extending the remote learning period for students in Southern Ontario and the shutdown period for Northern Ontario, while continuing to provide financial relief for parents through the Support for Learners program as well as electricity rate relief for all time-of-use customers.”
Ford says numbers need to start going down.
“[These] measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus,” he adds.
Child care centres and home-based child care services will remain open to support families during the extended school closure and the province expanded the scope for those eligible for emergency child care to a broader number of frontline health and safety workers.
Financial support is also available for families during this temporary remote learning period through the
Support for Learners program.
Starting Jan. 11, an expanded program will provide $200 for each child or youth up to Grade 12, and $250 for each child or youth up to age 21 with special needs. Applications will be open until Feb. 8, 2021.
The province is also providing an additional $80 million for more technological devices, such as laptops and tablets, to support school boards in procuring about 160,000 additional devices province-wide.