Toronto elementary and secondary schools will be closed for in-person learning as all students and staff will shift to online learning as of Wednesday.
Toronto Public Health (TPH) issued a Section 22 order and made the announcement on Tuesday; one day after Peel Public Health became the first local health unit to recommend schools be closed for in-person learning due to COVID-19 concerns.
Similar to Peel Region, the order will be in place from April 7 to 18, which will bring students to the end of the April break.
An extension of this order may be considered based on COVID-19 epidemiological data for Toronto.
“The spread of COVID-19 has never been greater in Toronto, with variants of concern increasing both the risk of transmission and the risk of serious illness or death,” said the City in a news release.
“Stronger public health measures are required to reverse the surge of infection that the province currently faces.”
Important update- @TOPublicHealth has announced that all schools in Toronto – including those at the TDSB, will be closed to in-person learning as of Wednesday, April 7, 2021, and remain closed up to & including Sunday, April 18, 2021.
— Toronto District School Board (@tdsb) April 6, 2021
Further decisions to extend Section 22 will be made, as required, and TPH says the return date for in-person learning will be re-evaluated and is subject to change.
Licensed child care programs will not be permitted to offer care to children whose schools are required to be closed under the order, with the exception of emergency child care for those who qualify, the City confirmed.
Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa has shifted the course one day after TPH said they were not considering sheltering schools and moving to online learning.
“TPH will continue to recommend early dismissal for individual schools upon investigation to protect students, staff, teachers, and school communities,” said the health unit Monday.
TPH has shut down up to 22 schools as of Tuesday due to rising case counts with the Toronto Catholic District School Board announcing it would close nine schools, effective Tuesday, due to COVID-19 investigations.
De Villa called the rising COVID-19 case rates in the city “horrific.”
RELATED: Ontario moving into Phase 2 of vaccine rollout, essential workers eligible for 1st dose by mid-May
“TPH appreciates that this decision places an additional burden on many including students, staff, and families, and especially those with younger children and fewer supports,” they said Tuesday.
“The health and safety of students and staff remains a priority for TPH. This action is being taken in an effort to keep our communities safe and prevent further spread of COVID-19.”
Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced in-class instruction and April Break would go on as planned.
The minister’s office has defended its stance on keeping students in class, saying again on Tuesday that “schools remain safe with strong public health measures in place that have kept nearly 99% of schools in Ontario open.”
“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.”
York Region issued another statement saying it’s committed to keeping students in class – for now.
“COVID-19 transmission in schools in York Region remains low and to date, all school closures experienced in York Region have been closed for operational reasons unrelated to outbreak reasons,” said York Region.
“We continue to closely monitor all new cases of COVID-19 in our community, including variant of concern cases; our robust case and contact management investigations quickly identify all new cases and ensure they and their close contacts are isolated as quickly as possible, limiting the risk of further transmission.”
Ontario reported 236 new, school-related COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 207 in students.
Just over 2,000 cases have been confirmed in the past 14 days. There are over 1,000 schools with at least one reported case and 83 are currently closed as a result.
In the province’s latest modelling, Ontario’s Science Advisory Table said that despite the surge in cases, school disruptions should be minimized, noting that school closures have a “significant and highly inequitable impact on students, parents, and society.”