Ontario’s education minister announced the province is postponing March Break until the week of April 12.
“In support of our collective efforts to keep schools safe, we are postponing March Break until April 12-16, 2021. This decision was made with the best advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health officials, including consultations with many local Medical Officers of Health,” said Stephen Lecce in a statement.
The education minister said that it’s critical that the Ford government follow public health advice to protect schools and avoid a repeat of the spike in youth-related cases.
“Postponing March break not cancelling it is an important way that schools can help to limit community transmission,” Lecce added.
“We recognize the congregation is a key driver of the spread of COVID-19; something we realized over the winter break. We will not take that risk again with your child, with our staff, with Ontario families.”
The Ford government maintained its hard stance on travelling, saying Thursday Ontarians should refrain from doing so, “particularly given the increase in new variants that pose a direct risk to our country.”
Following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Ontario is postponing March Break until the week of April 12.
These decisions are never easy, but we know over the holidays cases spiked.
— Stephen Lecce (@Sflecce) February 11, 2021
The union representing the province’s elementary school teachers said mental health should be respected.
The Ontario Public School Board Association has also supported March break happening as scheduled.
“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.”
NDP Opposition leader Andrea Horwath called on Monday for March break to go ahead as planned, saying it’s important for the mental and emotional health of parents, educators, and students.
“What we’re calling on Doug Ford to do is to provide clarity around that sooner rather than later,” said Horwath at the time.
LIVE — Students, educators & parents need a safe March Break to catch their breath. NDP Leader @AndreaHorwath and Education critic @maritstiles say instead of delaying the break, the Ford govt should make it safe – and make schools safer. https://t.co/ggbSFMu2rN
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) February 11, 2021
Jennifer Harris Bialczyk, a Toronto mother of two, has felt similarly.
Bialczyk went from celebrating Lecce’s school reopening announcement with friends over Zoom – “we all had wine,” she said recently – 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.”
All students began the month of January with remote learning as part of a provincial lockdown. The government then took a gradual approach to reopening physical classrooms, starting with northern and rural areas.
“Please stay at home as much as possible and continue following the direction of public health officials so that we can keep schools open and protect our seniors, frontline health workers, and all families,” the education minister said.
Students in Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region remain the only ones now left learning exclusively online and are set to return to physical classrooms on Feb. 16.
Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency expired Tuesday and the province is transitioning back to the colour-coded framework that will ease restrictions based on COVID-19 case counts in respective regions.
Three Eastern Ontario regions entered the ‘green-prevent’ level on Wednesday.
Top doctors in Toronto and Peel have warned that rolling back other restrictions as students resume in-person learning amid the spread of new virus variants could kick off a worse wave of infections.
The provincial and federal governments have been urging residents to limit their travel.
The federal government recently introduced its own policies aimed at preventing travel over the spring break. Four major airlines have said flights would be halted 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.