TORONTO — Ontario is postponing schools’ annual March break until the week of April 12, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Thursday.
“We recognize the congregation is a key driver of the spread of COVID-19, something we realized over the winter break, and we will not take that risk again with your child, with our staff, with Ontario families,” he said.
“The decision is all more important as we move to protect our communities from the emerging variants of this disease.”
The break will start just one week after the four-day Easter weekend currently scheduled for schools.
There was a spike in “youth-related cases” over the winter break, a government press release about the announcement said.
Lecce said the chief medical officer of health and local medical officers of health advised his government to push back the spring break.
Medical experts told the government to delay the break to discourage travel outside and within the province right now, especially because some areas are starting to reopen stores and restaurants, chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams said.
“The specific week was not precise but this was chosen with proper consultation.”
Schools have reopened in all areas except Toronto, Peel and York, where they’ll reopen Tuesday. Ontario kept schools closed for an extended winter break as part of the province-wide lockdown that started Dec. 26, but students were still doing classes virtually.
Teachers’ unions, school boards and parents had all urged the government not to cancel March break, something Lecce had said he was considering.
Parents, teachers’ unions disappointed
Jennifer Grenier, a mother of two in Barrie, Ont., started an online petition for March break to be kept as scheduled, which got more than 23,000 signatures.
She told HuffPost Canada she’s upset the break is being pushed back and finds the government’s message unclear.
“It’s confusing, because we’ve been told so many different things,” she said.
“Send them to school, don’t send them school. Limit the transmission by not sending them to school for two weeks until we open things back up. Now send them back to school, but don’t give them the berak because school is the safest place for them to be ... It’s very conflicting.”
Her kids, who are 12 and 9, have been learning online all year. That’s hard for any kids, she said, but especially hard for hers, who both have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“You can’t delay mental health.”
Grenier wanted her children to get a weeklong break from screens to bake, do crafts, build forts and have sleepovers in the living room.
“Students, teachers, education workers have all had to pivot like crazy, just to get this new way of learning down. So I think that break is super important. And I think it needs to happen now,” Grenier said.
“You can’t delay mental health.”
The four major teachers’ unions said in a statement they are also strongly opposed to the postponement.
“These are unprecedented times, and this is a much-needed break for students, teachers, education workers, and families who have been under tremendous pressure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
“If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during March Break, these should be addressed by the government through other means. Why did Premier Doug Ford reopen the economy when it is clear risks remain?”
‘The next loop on the roller coaster’
NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the decision “just the next loop on the roller coaster” that the Ford government has put parents and teachers through.
“They said school would be back in September, then delayed and delayed and delayed. They said schools were completely safe, then shut them all down when it’s clear they weren’t. This delay is more upheaval in the lives of families that haven’t had the structure, support and predictability they need,” Stiles said in a statement.
This time last year, just before the first lockdown, Ford caused confusion when he told families to “go away” and “have fun” during March Break.
He also said the situation could change at any time, and it did. The next morning, federal public health authorities said Canadians should cancel any non-essential travel and self isolate for 14 days if they return from abroad.
The federal government is currently discouraging non-essential international travel by requiring a three-day hotel quarantine upon arrival at a Canadian airport, at the travellers’ expense. Four major airlines also agreed to suspend service to sun destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico until April 30.