At home learning to continue for elementary students

An empty classroom. (Photo by Wokandapix from Pixabay)

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow in Ontario, the province has announced that it is extending at home learning for elementary students in southern Ontario.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams made the announcement on Thursday afternoon.

Like their high school counterparts, elementary students in southern Ontario will continue to learn from home until January 25.

“With the public health trends where they are across the province, our priority remains keeping students, teachers, school staff, and all Ontarians safe,” said 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.”

While many health officials have said that schools are not a significant source of COVID-19 transmission, Dr. Williams noted that test positivity rates have dramatically increased among children. According to provincial figures, the positivity rate among children aged 12-13 was 5.44 per cent in late November and early December. However, in January it has shot up to nearly 20 per cent.

“I have and remain firmly committed to getting students back into class as soon as possible – there is nothing more important. However, the best medical and scientific experts have been clear: while schools have been safe places for kids, the sharp rise in community transmission puts that progress and Ontario families at risk,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “During this time, students will remain engaged in live teacher-led online learning with access to enhanced mental health and technology supports.”

The announcement to extend at home learning in elementary schools came after the union that represents public elementary teachers called on the government to keep elementary schools closed for the safety of both students and school staff. After the announcement, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said the extension was the result of the Ford government’s failure to contain the virus. President Sam Hammond called on the government to immediately take steps to make schools safer. He said that would include reducing class sizes to make sure physical distancing can be maintained, improvements to ventilation and the deploying of HEPA filters and CO2 monitors in every classroom, and the introduction of asymptomatic testing at schools.

“We firmly believe that in-person instruction in publicly-funded schools provides the best experience for learning, quality delivery, and is the most equitable model for all students. We know that educators are eager to be back with their students in their classrooms,” Hammond said. “We will continue to press the government to provide funding to support all families, and to account for the childcare needs of educators and other front-line workers.”