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Parents' questions about postponed March Break answered by Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Last Updated Feb 11, 2021 at 8:52 pm EST

Ontario Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce makes an announcement at Queen's Park in Toronto, on Thurs., Aug, 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Summary

Minister Stephen Lecce says public health experts predict an "uptick" in variant cases during the original March Break.

Provincial government says no travelling during the break, "this is not a return to normal."

The province's major teacher's unions disagree with the decision.

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.

Why April?

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.

Variant cases

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.”

Travelling

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.”

Teacher’s unions

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.”

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