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Ontario returning all schools to online learning after April break

Monday, April 12, 2021 @ 4:47 PM | By John Schofield

Ontario is moving all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools to online learning beginning April 19 as the COVID-19 variants drive a record level of new infections and nearly exhaust ICU capacity.

Premier Doug Ford said in an April 12 news release that keeping students home for longer after this week’s spring break will limit community transmission, take pressure off hospitals and allow more time for the rollout of the province’s COVID-19 vaccination program. The government is requiring private schools that are still operating in person this week to transition to remote learning by April 15.

Increasing rates of community spread are posing a threat to the health and safety of school communities, necessitating the move to online learning, said the government.

Ontario reported 4,401 new cases of COVID-19 on April 12, down slightly from a record of 4,456 on April 11, but significantly higher than the 2,938 infections registered April 5. The rolling seven-day average reached 3,767, up from 2,757 a week earlier.

According to the government news release, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Ontario increased by 22.1 per cent from April 4 to April 10 and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care during that period increased from 494 to 605. Of those, 382 are on a ventilator.

“This was not a decision we made lightly, as we know how critical schools are to Ontario students,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “While Ontario’s plan has kept schools safe, as confirmed by the chief medical officer of health, we are taking decisive and preventative action today to ensure students can safely return to learning in our schools.”

The province has been under a stay-at-home order since April 8, requiring all residents to remain at home except for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health-care services, for outdoor exercise close to home or for work that cannot be done remotely. The government urged all Ontarians to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to continue practising public health precautions, including masking, physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

NDP Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said in an April 12 news release that the return to online learning across the province was precipitated by the government’s failure to adequately protect schools, students and education workers from COVID-19 — saying “it should never have come to this.”

“Doug Ford marched us right into this all-schools shutdown by refusing to listen to experts and refusing to invest to make schools safe,” she said. “I’m worried for the students having their education disrupted again right as exams approach, and I really feel for parents, families and teachers now scrambling for child care and deeply worried about managing at-home learning again.”

In an April 12 Tweet, Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrics and internal medicine specialist with Sinai Health, said, “The modelling has been available to predict this since early February — it was ignored.”

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