Ottawa schools won't reopen Monday as planned

Students in Ottawa won't be returning to the classroom Monday after all, the province announced Wednesday. 

Province gives green light to 7 regions to resume in-class learning Jan. 25

Classrooms like this one will remain shuttered in Ottawa on Monday, the province announced Wednesday. (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

Elementary and secondary students in Ottawa won't be returning to the classroom Monday after all, the province announced Wednesday. 

The province is allowing school boards within seven public health regions in southern and eastern Ontario to resume in-class learning on Monday, but boards in Ottawa aren't among them. 

Four public health units in eastern Ontario have been given the green light to reopen schools Jan. 25: Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District; the Renfrew County and District; and Hastings Prince Edward.

Elsewhere in Ontario, students in Grey Bruce, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District and Peterborough can also return to school on Monday.

Schools in northern Ontario, where the spread of COVID-19 is relatively low, have been open since Jan. 11. In the province's hot zones in and around Toronto and Windsor, schools were not to reopen until at least Feb. 11.

The province did not say when schools in Ottawa might reopen, only that Ontario's chief medical officer of health will "continue to review the public health trends and advise the government on the resumption of in person learning," according to a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Ottawa ready to reopen: Etches

Recognizing the importance of school to both children and their parents, Ottawa's medical officer of health told the province she's in favour of in-class learning resuming next week.

"We are ready to support schools opening on Monday," Dr. Vera Etches told reporters Wednesday. But the province has other ideas.

Etches argued that, although there is a higher level of COVID-19 in the community compared to last fall, most key indicators suggest the threat is receding thanks to strict public health measures. As long as families continue to take precautions, it's possible to reduce transmission while keeping schools open, Etches said.

One of those precautions is careful daily screening of children before they go to school. A child with any symptoms should get a COVID-19 test. In recent weeks, the number of children being tested has dropped, but the positivity rate among that age group has risen to 21 per cent. 

"It also requires ... that we limit children's contacts to the people in their household when they're not in school," Etches told reporters.

"School has the screening, school has the cohorts, school has infection prevention and control measures, the mask use. All of those things need to be reinforced, and we can't increase the likelihood of the transmission of COVID among children by restarting extracurriculars."

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