The Ford government was at some point considering an additional closure of schools heading into the winter break as a means to slow the spread of COVID-19, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Tuesday.
“I am seriously looking at solutions that may include some period outside of class that allows to protect the gains we made in this province going into the second year,” Lecce told reporters after Question Period on Tuesday. “And we will be able to report more substantively on that soon, to give parents notice that understandably they deserve.”
Most of Ontario’s more than 4,800 publicly schools opened by mid-September just as the province saw a sustained increase in daily cases of COVID-19 from little more than 100 per day to more than 1,500 per day by early November.
Since then, more than 3,500 cases of novel coronavirus infection have been detected in schools, with almost 14 per cent of schools currently reporting at least one active case.
“The announcement we will unveil will be comprehensive and include a variety of elements, one of which can include something like an extended closure and online learning experience,” Lecce said.
Speaking after Lecce on Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stressed no decision has been made.
“Let’s not confirm that until the minister sits down with the Chief Medical Officer – I don’t want to jump the gun here and say be prepared,” Ford said. “It may not happen.”
He said that he knows parents are happy in large part with schools being open for their children.
“What I am hearing out there is parents want their kids in school, and it’s going well. Out of the 4,828 schools, only one is closed.”
Minister Lecce himself appeared to walk back some of his earlier comments on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
The Ford government spent more than $450 million bolstering schools in preparation for COVID-19 this September, also accepting $381 million in help from Ottawa and allowing school boards to dip into $500 million in existing reserve funds to help schools with the impact of the virus.
Lecce said he is actively consulting with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on the details of the plan, including the closure, and will have to more say about the matter in the next “week or two.”
Responding to Lecce’s comments, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said floating the possibility of closures showed Ford’s approach to school reopening has failed.
“As recently as last night, (Ford’s) team has called their approach a success. They lied. Today, the Education Minister made clear that COVID-19 spread in schools is a clear and present danger. Doug Ford must act now so that students return to safe class sizes after this avoidable shutdown.”
Last week, Ontario’s Ministry of Education denied that it was considering an early closure “in 2020.”