TORONTO – On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford was asked to announce whether schools in Ontario would reopen for the remainder of the month.
Opposition leaders said Ford failed to show leadership and keep families in the dark as the end of the academic year drew near.
Ford, who did not include schools in the province’s economic reopening plan last month, called for advice to reopen physical classrooms late last week and is still resolving on the issue, the health minister said.
NDP boss Andrea Horwath said the uncertainty about the schools had lasted too long.
“The least the government can do is be concise and clear and provide some information to children, educators, educators and parents as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s been dragging on for too long.”
She also reiterated calls for improved security measures in schools before reopening.
“We could have had kids in school far more often during this pandemic, but Doug Ford just didn’t want to make the investment,” she said.
Liberal House Chairman John Fraser said the delay in announcing a decision either indicates incompetence or is a government policy.
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the prime minister’s handling of the issue – and the lack of advance planning for schools to reopen – was a failure of leadership.
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said the union supports reopening schools based on local COVID-19 trends, but the lengthy decision-making process is making this less attractive as time goes on.
“With every day that goes by, the exercise becomes more pointless,” said Harvey Bischof in an interview.
The window of time for a productive return to class is even smaller for secondary school students who have fewer classes and have an exam time in June, he noted.
Bishop argued that Ford’s continued reflection on the matter suggested that education was not a priority for the government.
Classrooms have been closed for personal learning since mid-April, when the province battled a deadly third wave of infections. Infections and hospital stays have fallen significantly since then – Ontario reported 699 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths from the virus on Tuesday.
Ontario’s top doctor and his counterparts across much of the province say they support resumption of face-to-face tuition, although experts have predicted an increase in COVID-19 cases when schools reopen.
Children’s hospitals and many doctors have urged the government to reopen schools immediately in the face of the recent drop in cases, saying that face-to-face learning is vital to the well-being of children.
Health Secretary Christine Elliott said Tuesday the government is still scrutinizing advice from experts on the matter.
“It is something that they take the time to review the information they receive back in order to make a decision that is in the best interests of Ontarians and safe for all children,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce gave no information about ongoing cabinet talks.
“We’ll give the security parents deserve once a decision is made,” Caitlin Clark said in a statement.
Ford said Monday that a decision on schools would be made “in the next day or two”.
Meanwhile, the province said a stay at home order would be lifted as planned on Wednesday – although few other public health measures would change.
The order was issued in April and required residents to leave the home only for reasons deemed essential, such as exercise, grocery shopping or health services.
As of Wednesday, this rule will no longer be in effect, but other measures such as a five-person limit for outdoor gatherings and restrictions on personal shopping at most businesses will remain in effect until the province resumes its reopening plan later this month.
“We have seen great strides in our fight against COVID-19 in the past few weeks, but this is not the time to let up our vigilance,” Attorney General Sylvia Jones said in a statement.
Later on Tuesday, lawmakers voted for a motion to appoint the province’s next top doctor. Dr. Kieran Moore, currently Medical Officer of Health for the Kingston, Ontario area, will succeed Dr. David Williams line up.
– With files from Colin Perkel.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 1, 2021.