Ontario students log on for winter term as province’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise

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Empty Classrooms

TORONTO — Ontario students began their winter term by logging on to online classes Monday as COVID-19 case counts remained high during the second week of a province-wide lockdown.

As the province recorded another day with more than 3,000 new cases, one parents’ group questioned the government’s plan to reopen schools for in-person learning in the coming weeks.

Jessica Lyons, of the Ontario Parent Action Network, said the numbers are more alarming than last month, when the province initially announced the temporary switch to remote classes as part of the lockdown that took effect on Boxing Day.

“Now we’re so much worse — indescribably worse. And the plan is to go back, and it’s just like how there’s no rationale there,” Lyons, who has two school-aged children and a toddler, said Monday.

“We haven’t even closed all of the things that we could close yet (to reduce the risk of community spread), and we’re not trending in the right direction yet … we’re still cresting.”

Lyons said many parents, including herself, are “quite terrified” at the prospect of another complete shutdown of in-person learning like what was imposed during the first wave of the pandemic.

But she said the province’s actions, particularly as case counts skyrocketed over the last month, have done nothing to assure parents that sending kids back to school in person would be safe.

Asked whether the province would consider extending remote learning in light the surging COVID-19 cases, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Monday the government will continue to follow the advice of medical experts in making those decisions.

The minister issued an open letter to parents on social media over the weekend, calling the temporary return to remote learning “proactive and preventative” action and stressing that schools have not been a source of rising community transmission.

Ontario’s largest school board, meanwhile, said Monday its experience managing remote learning in the fall term — including shifting entire classes to online classes when required for self-isolation — helped it prepare for the transition.

“We can make that flip to remote learning relatively quickly given the experience that we’ve had over the recent months,” said Ryan Bird, spokesman for the Toronto District School Board.

“We recognize that there are going to be some challenges as people get up and running. But we do believe that we can do that relatively quickly.”

Students in northern Ontario and elementary students in southern Ontario will resume in-person learning next week, while high schoolers in southern Ontario will continue online learning until Jan. 25.

The move is part of a provincial lockdown that began on Boxing Day and is set to last until Jan. 9 in northern Ontario and Jan. 23 in southern Ontario.