Citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the province, the Ontario government announced an extension of remote learning for elementary students.
All elementary and secondary students in Limestone will continue to learn remotely until January 22, 2021. Schools will reopen for in-person learning Jan. 25, 2021.
In a press release issued Thursday, the government said the time-limited measures are being taken to help ensure that all Ontarians stay at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.
“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said Ontario 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. We have to get the numbers down and today’s measures will help us continue to stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
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 and with reports of what the government called ‘concerning behaviour’ over the holidays, the positivity rate among school-aged children has increased sharply. The positivity rate for kids aged 12-13 years old increased from 5.44 per cent in late November, early December to nearly 20 per cent in early January.
In response to increasing community transmission, in-person learning will be deferred to January 25, 2021 in Southern Ontario, which aligns with the planned return of in-person learning for secondary school students in these regions.
The government noted Ontario’s chief medical officer of health will continue to consult with experts, review data, and provide advice to government on the appropriate and effective measures that are needed to protect the health of Ontarians. This will include an assessment of how and when it is safe to exit the Provincewide Shutdown and move public health unit regions back into the COVID-19 Response Framework: Keeping Ontario Safe and Open, including how a revised approach for the safe reopening of retail may be operationalized.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is crucial that all Ontarians continue to follow all public health and workplace safety measures,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. “To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard health system capacity, Ontarians are strongly urged to stay at home, limit trips outside of their households for essential reasons only and must not gather with individuals outside of the people they live with.”
To support families during this extended school closure, child care centres, and home-based child care services will remain open. Ontario is also expanding eligibility for the Ministry of Education’s targeted emergency child care program for a broader number of frontline health and safety workers.
In order to continue to support remote learning, the ministry has recommended that a portion of the second half of federal funding, an additional $80 million investment, will be provided for additional technological devices, such as laptops and tablets, to support school boards in procuring about 160,000 additional devices province-wide.
Financial support is also available for families during this temporary remote learning period through the Support for Learners program. Starting on Jan. 11, an expanded Support for Learners program is providing $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.
For those requiring additional support during this challenging period, Ontario is providing an additional $10 million in support of student mental health, including funding for Kids Help Phone to support children and youth across the province. School Mental Health Ontario will be providing mental health resources and strategies to support students during this period.