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Stephen Lecce's office says teacher unions are stoking fear about school safety

Last Updated Apr 6, 2021 at 7:41 pm EDT

The Children's Health Coalition in Toronto says in-person learning is integral to a child's development.

Ontario’s Education Minister and the Children’s Health Coalition are reacting to Toronto Public Health’s decision to issue Section 22 and close all schools for in-person learning as of Wednesday.

Stephen Lecce’s office issued a second statement in as many days, accusing teacher unions of stoking fear.

“The data shows that schools have remained safe through this pandemic as confirmed by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and local Medical Officers of Health,” said Minister Lecce’s spokesperson, Caitlin Clark.

“While teacher unions continue to stoke fear, here are facts that are not up for debate.”

Clark says in the midst of the third wave, 98.7 percent of schools are open and that of the schools that are currently closed, 30 percent are due to a lack of staffing and “not due to COVID outbreaks or transmission.”

“99.8 percent of students and staff do not have an active reported case of COVID-19 and Ontario has one of the lowest rates of cases for youth under 19 in Canada,” Clark continued.

“Dr. [Lawrence] Loh and Dr. [David] Williams have all confirmed over the past 24 hours that schools have been safe places for learning and the pivot to virtual learning is due to rising community cases.”

RELATED: Unions, politicians call on Ontario to vaccinate teachers or close schools

“It is our firm belief that schools should be open for in-class learning, as they are critical to student mental health and safety, as confirmed by leading medical leaders in Ontario,” she added.

Alex Munter, President of the Children’s Health Coalition in Toronto, says putting children under a stay-at-home order harms them and “won’t do much to end the third wave.”

“We are calling on the Ford government to recognize the hardship kids and families will face and do everything in their power to reopen schools where they have closed as soon as possible and save the school year,” the Children’s Health Coalition said in a statement.

Toronto Public Health joined Peel Region as the latest local public health unit to issue Section 22 and close schools for at least two weeks.

Public health officials in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph followed suit, ordering all schools to close starting Wednesday, with a return date no sooner than April 19.

Munter says schools “should be the last to close and the first to open.”

“We know that long-term school closures can seriously harm the learning, mental health, and development of children,” the statement continues.

“Children who face the most harm from the loss of in-person learning are often the ones most at risk.”

The health coalition says they understand that schools and learning environments must be safe, at all times, calling on the Ford government to further enhance the safety inside classrooms to better protect students and staff.

RELATED: 22 Toronto schools close to due COVID-19

Three teachers’ unions also asked the government to close schools for in-class learning in virus hot spots and offer vaccines to education workers.

Two Niagara Region school boards said staff would be eligible for COVID-19 shots starting next week.

“Due to our strong infection prevention measures, 99 percent of students and staff across Ontario have no reported active cases of COVID-19, however, we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open,” Clark said.

On Tuesday, the province revealed that it’s moving up its vaccine timeline for essential workers by roughly two weeks, as those who cannot work from home are now eligible to be vaccinated by mid-May instead of early June.

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