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Ontario education minister considering cancelling March break to curb COVID-19 spread

Last Updated Feb 4, 2021 at 3:54 pm EDT

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce prepare for an announcement at Father Leo J. Austin Catholic Secondary School in Whitby, Ont., Thursday, July 30, 2020. The Ontario government is asking the province's school boards to try to spend $50 million to upgrade air quality in schools by Thanksgiving. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ontario is considering cancelling March break in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he hopes to have a decision by next week.

Lecce says he’s waiting on the opinion of the province’s chief medical officer of health before making a final call.

“I will follow his advice and do whatever it takes to protect Ontario families,” he said in a statement. “I believe Canadians should stay home and avoid travel given the emergence of these new variants.”

Harvey Bischof, President of Ontario’s Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), tells 680 NEWS that Lecce is “floating political trial balloons.”

News of the potential spring break cancellation comes a day after Lecce released plans to reopen those schools still closed in the coming weeks.

RELATED: Schools are reopening. What about small businesses? Many Ontario owners left wondering when it will happen

Schools in Toronto, Peel, and York are to reopen on Feb. 16, while those in other public health units where in-person classes haven’t resumed reopen Feb. 8.

Lecce said he will base the March break decision entirely on “public health imperatives.”

But the union representing the province’s elementary school teachers said mental health should also be considered.

“We are living in unprecedented times that continue to create high levels of stress, fear, and anxiety for everyone,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

“We have heard repeatedly that students, families, and educators need a break right now.”

He said travel-related concerns should be dealt with in other ways.

Jennifer Harris Bialczyk, a Toronto mother of two, felt similarly.

She went from celebrating Lecce’s school reopening announcement with friends over Zoom — “we all had wine,” she said — to wondering whether she’d have to cancel plans to visit her cottage over the spring break.

“I can see it both ways,” she said. “I understand that the cases will likely go up if there is a March break. But I also think the kids, the parents, and the teachers all need a break.”

The federal government has instituted its own policies aimed at preventing travel over the spring break, announcing last week that four major airlines would halt flights from Canada to Mexico and the Caribbean until the end of April.

The provincial government has also introduced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all international arrivals to Ontario, and Ottawa has a similar program ramping up in the coming weeks.

Meantime, the City’s mayor and its officials say they fully support the Ford government’s careful review and subsequent decision to allow kids back for in-person learning.

John Tory and Toronto’s top doctor, Eileen de Villa, both acknowledged that while any decision made will come with both positive and negative reaction, they say students are better suited inside classrooms if proper health and safety measures are followed.

The province says it’s introducing measures to continue to protect students and staff against COVID-19 in the classroom, including, but not limited to province-wide access, in consultation with the local PHU, to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, as well as mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

With files from The Canadian Press

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