Following the provincial government’s announcement that March Break will be postponed until the week of April 12th, 680 NEWS’ Richard Southern sat down with Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to answer some of parent’s most asked questions regarding the decision.
I asked Minister Lecce why April 12 was chosen and why the postponed break was not tacked on to the end of Easter weekend;
"Really because by then the belief is that there will be greater stability with respect to the impact of the variant"
— Richard Southern (@richard680news) February 11, 2021
First and foremost, why April 12? The Minister says according to public health experts, there will be more stability in regards to variant COVID-19 cases by that period. “And that’s why we followed that advice, ultimately deferring it, not cancelling it,” Minister Lecce adds.
The Minister says that through the whole process, the provincial government has followed advice from public health experts. From keeping schools closed at the end of 2020, to re-opening them now, everything they’ve done is following advice from “some of the best public health experts in Ontario.” While postponing March Break might seem confusing, the Minister adds that based on modelling from a few months ago, March Break is when we’re expected to see an “uptick” in COVID-19 variant cases. This way, by keeping kids in schools during this time, they won’t be congregating in public, potentially exposing them to COVID-19.
But if we’re keeping kids in schools during a time when variant cases are expected to rise, aren’t we already risking their safety? Minister Lecce says that “schools have always been the safest place for children, that was quite obvious” from several rounds of asymptomatic testing. According to Minister Lecce, asymptomatic testing done through schools showed kids had a positivity rate of 1.8%, while community rates reached as high as 16% in some cases.
He also says other than education, schools provide a wide range of benefits for children. The Minister says keeping kids in school will provide “consistency, mental health benefits and most importantly, safe spaces for kids to be in.”
Booking off time
As for parents who booked time off of work for March Break who can’t reschedule for mid-April, what can they do? Minister Lecce says while the pandemic has “thrown many curveballs” for everyone, the provincial government’s focus is on “the health and safety of your children, our staff and the province.” He adds that while this could ruin some people’s plans for the break, “we do not want to see a repeat of what took place over the holidays, I think we all have a vested interest in that outcome.”
In regards to travel, is the province saying we should be travelling in April instead? Minister Lecce says that’s a hard no, adding “this is not a return to normal, we need citizens to continue to do everything they can.” This includes staying at home, only leaving for essential reasons, and not congregating with others in public areas. He adds that following updated modelling data released by the province, there could be a rise in variant cases if public health measures aren’t followed by all Ontarians.
The updated modelling data also stresses the importance of restrictions. The data shows that if there were no restrictions, our worst case scenario could result in 6,000 daily cases of COVID-19. So does that mean we should close schools down again? Minister Lecce says we definitely shouldn’t, adding that “the public health advice and that of others including SickKids is schools should be the last to close, and the first to-reopen.”
The decision to postpone the Break, despite unanimous opposition from unions & every stakeholder in the sector, including school board associations & the Ontario Principals’ Council, is another example of this gov ignoring experts & making decisions that are reckless & baseless
— Sam Hammond (@etfopresident) February 11, 2021
The province’s largest teacher’s unions sent out a joint statement criticizing the government’s decision to postpone the break, saying “this decision demonstrates their lack of understanding about the stress and pressures of learning and working in a pandemic.”
Responding to that, Minister Lecce says what he and the provincial government are doing is “following public health advice, and I think all responsible actors and citizens of the country wants governments of all stripes to listen to the doctors.” He adds that he’ll need to hear more from the teacher’s unions before he can properly respond to their demands. In their joint statement, the heads of the teacher’s unions say “The Ford government must listen to the voices of frontline workers in the education community and immediately reverse their decision to postpone March Break.”