February 3, 2021, Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, announced the dates for the resumption of in-person learning in all remaining Ontario public health units (PHUs). In the majority of PHUs where in-person learning has not yet resumed, schools will reopen on Monday, February 8th. For the PHUs of Peel, Toronto, and York, schools will reopen on Tuesday, February 16th.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Minister Lecce and Dr. Williams responded to questions from media.
Earlier today, the government announced additional supports for families of children on the autism spectrum. Beginning in March, Ontario will offer core clinical services (including applied behaviour analysis, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, and mental health supports) based on a child’s individual needs. The government will also offer an extension of funding for families to purchase eligible services and supports for their children, in recognition of the challenges families of children on the autism spectrum are facing due to COVID-19.
Province-Wide Resumption of In-Person Learning
This afternoon, Minister Lecce and Dr. Williams announced the dates for the resumption of in-person learning in Ontario PHUs where schools have not yet reopened following the holiday break.
The government’s decision to reopen remaining Ontario schools was based on the advice of Dr. Williams, as a result of the “consistent decline in community transmission” of COVID-19 across the province. Local medical officers of health in the affected regions were also consulted, and retain the authority to close local schools within their jurisdiction if they deem it necessary.
Elementary and secondary schools in most PHUs will return to in-person learning on Monday, February 8th. These PHUs include:
- Brant County Health Unit
- Chatham-Kent Public Health
- Durham Region Health Department
- Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
- Halton Region Public Health
- City of Hamilton Public Health Services
- Huron Perth Public Health
- Lambton Public Health
- Niagara Region Public Health
- Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit
- Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health
- Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
In the above PHUs, before and after school child care programs will also resume on February 8th. As a result, February 5th will be the last day for emergency child care in these regions.
In the PHUs of Peel, Toronto, and York, elementary schools, secondary schools, and before and after school child care programs will resume in-person learning on Tuesday, February 16th, following the Family Day long weekend. The last day for emergency child care in these regions will be February 12th.
The government recently introduced new measures to enhance protection from COVID-19 in schools, including province-wide targeted voluntary asymptomatic testing, mandatory masking for students in grades 1-3, mandatory masking for students outdoors when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and enhanced screening. Ontario has also enabled teacher candidates set to graduate in 2021 to be temporarily certified, in order to stabilize staffing levels in schools.
Following this afternoon’s announcement, Minister Lecce reiterated that safety remains the top priority, and reassured parents that the government will continue to monitor COVID-19 trends in schools. He added that the government will not hesitate to act if trends worsen once schools reopen.
Questions from Media
School Reopening in COVID-19 Hotspots
Dr. Williams was asked why today’s announcement enables schools in some COVID-19 hotspots (such as Hamilton and Windsor-Essex) to open ahead of others (Peel, Toronto, and York). In response, Dr. Williams explained that the rationale behind delaying the reopening of schools in Peel, Toronto and York is a combination of high case counts in these PHUs, as well as the size of the school boards. Given the size of school boards in Peel, Toronto, and York, school reopening was partially delayed until February 16th to ensure that administrative elements are in place when students return to class.
Case Count Thresholds for In-Person School
In response to questions about why schools are being permitted to reopen province-wide when daily case numbers are currently higher than prior to the holiday break in December, Dr. Williams said that he was encouraged by recent trends. He added that today’s case numbers, which included 1,172 new cases (including fewer than 200 in Peel and fewer than 500 in Toronto) have not been observed since early December.