Durham students will be ending their school year learning online.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday, June 2, students would not be returning to in-person learning due to the risk of a rise in COVID cases and transmission.
He also says more students and teachers need to be vaccinated.
While some public health, medical and educational experts said kids should be back in school on a regional basis, Ford says the experts couldn’t say that returning to in-class learning before more students and teachers are vaccinated wouldn’t lead to “thousands and thousands of new cases.”
“The experts couldn’t tell us that it wouldn’t risk spreading dangerous variants and avoid us from moving to other stages. It won’t risk the health of our kids,” he says.
“While no one wants kids back in school more than I do, as your premier, these aren’t risks I’m willing to take.”
In a letter to parents, Durham District School Board Director of Education Norah Marsh says she understands this news will be disappointing for some families, adding she appreciates the patience and understanding as the board follows the direction of the Ministry of Education.
“It is important for all of us to stay safe and it is our hope that with increased vaccinations and a gradual reduction of public health measures, that the upcoming school year will be more normal for all,” she says.
Ford says while COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on everyone, children have been impacted more than most.
“The pandemic has disrupted their lives, it has taken away their ability to go to school, to see friends, to connect with each other,” he says.
Ford says the COVID-19 variants are one of the driving factors behind the decision to keep schools closed as they are hitting younger age groups, with some getting quite ill.
He says outdoor activities remain safest right now until more students and teachers are vaccinated, which is why he says the province’s reopening plan starts with outdoor activities.
“We will focus on getting kids outside, getting them to summer camps, day camps, sports, outdoor activities as soon as possible,” he says, noting it’s these outdoor activities that are critical to the mental and physical wellbeing of children.
Ford also acknowledged the parents, commending them for all they’ve done throughout the pandemic.
“You’ve done remarkable jobs in the hardest of circumstances and we understand how hard this remains on everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing,” he says.
This is why he says the government recently announced an additional $31 million in new mental health funding for children and youth.
Ford says this time will be used to get teachers and students vaccinated, as well as investing in schools, such as better ventilation.
“The decisions we make today will help us ensure a safe summer and, most importantly, a safe and normal return to school in September.”