Ontario’s education minister has announced elementary students at publicly funded schools won’t be going back to school until at least June 1, and those closures could be extended further if the province’s top Doctor recommends it.
“We need more time. We need to see a reduced risk to our young people and so therefore we have accepted that advice as we always have and it has given us another month of time, a bit more predictability for parents at home to know this will be the norm for the coming weeks,” explained Lecce during a media conference on Sunday at Queen’s Park.
The move comes as Ford government released its plan to get Ontario back to work as the COVID-19 curve flattens. But that plan doesn’t necessarily include sending students back to class on a preferred timeline.
“I just don’t want to go out there and start setting dates and we see a spike and then all of a sudden we have to slow things down. Let’s just get it right the first time,” Premier Doug Ford said on Monday as he released details of his plan.
Whether students return in June or September, schools may look much different when the facilities reopen. The schools may not open at the same time. There could be a mixture of blended learning, which means students could spend half their time in class and the remainder at home.
“Good education and good care is expensive and it takes a system-wide response and it takes government support and public buy-in,” explained Lauren Bialystok, an assistant professor who studies ethics and education at the University of Toronto.
There’s concern the pandemic will highlight inequalities among students that are already prevalent.
“We already know that kids from advantaged homes perform better in school and have far more resources to cope with ups and downs and challenges at school,” said Bialystok.
“The less advantaged kids, and this already is a concern over the summer what we call the summer deficit that kids that come from families where their parents can’t afford to send them to camps or give them many forms of enrichment and education at home, are going to be worse off in September even because of a two-month break.”
And with no end in sight so far, educators are concerned about how well some students will do when they return to full-time learning.
“This is going to be another event that compounds that inequality,” said Bialystok.
The Ford government has said that all students will graduate this year and will receive additional supports through a “beefed-up” summer school program, which is currently being designed.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health will determine when school returns, but Dr. David Williams said he’s concerned opening schools may lead to community transmission.
“What’s going to happen between now and May is we’re really going to watch these numbers and to see if we can get into the process of that steady two-to-three-week decline. I mean it would be nice if it came down really fast, but I can’t say that,” he said.
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