Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced the dates for the return of in-person learning in all remaining Ontario public health units (PHUs).
Elementary and secondary schools in the Niagara Region Public Health will return to in-person learning on Monday, Feb. 8.
The government’s decision was based on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the unanimous recommendation of the Council of Medical Officers of Health, and with the support of local Medical Officers of Health.
In the PHUs that are permitted to return to in-person learning on Feb. 8, before and after school child care programs are permitted to resume on that day, therefore Feb. 5 will be the last day for emergency child care.
“Following the best medical advice, with the clear support of both Ontario’s and the local Medical Officers of Health, we are reopening schools across the province knowing that we have taken additional steps and made additional investments to better protect our students and staff,” said Minister Lecce.
“Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success.”
“I am very pleased that students in both public and independent schools across Niagara will be able to return safely to in-person class on February 8th”, said Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff.
“We know that parents and students alike will be happy to return to safe and secure learning environment. This important step is being taken on the advice of our Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr David Williams and is based in his confidence in the safety of Ontario schools.
To support the safe return of in-person learning, Ontario has introduced new measures to continue to protect students and staff against COVID-19 in the classroom. These measures include:
- Province-wide access, in consultation with the local PHU, to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff;
- Mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
- Providing 3.5 million high quality cloth masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1-12 students;
- Enhanced screening for secondary students and staff;
- Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and,
- Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.
“Reducing the transmission of COVID-19 is fundamental to keeping our communities and schools safe,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Our collective efforts, like strictly adhering to all public health measures, in addition to the enhanced safety measures in schools, will help keep communities healthy and students learning alongside their peers in their classrooms.”
To further promote health and safety for students and staff, Ontario recently made an additional $381 million in funding available for schools. Provided under the federal Safe Return to Class Fund, this funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health and hire additional staff. In total, Ontario has provided schools with more than $1.6 billion to protect against COVID-19.
PHUs continue to reserve the authority to close schools to in-person learning based on local circumstances.