Ford says it's not realistic for Ontario schools to reopen April 6
Premier says schools will need to remain closed longer as province grapples with COVID-19 pandemic
Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged Monday that he doesn't think it is realistic to expect the province's public schools to reopen on April 6.
Ford made the remarks on what would have been the first day back to class after March break, acknowledging that schools will need to remain closed longer as the province grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this month, Education Minister Stephen Lecce ordered the province's publicly funded elementary and secondary schools shuttered for two additional weeks following the break.
"We're taking this, again, day-by-day," Ford said during a press conference Monday. "Do I believe — and does the minister believe — April 6 the kids are going back to school? The kids won't be going back to school on April the 6th."
A spokeswoman for Lecce said the province continues to receive advice on the status of its schools from Ontario's chief medical officer of health.
"The Minister has been clear, our government will take immediate action to ensure the safety of students and staff, and is preparing for all scenarios," Alexandra Adamo said in a statement.
Lecce issued an open letter Sunday night saying the government is looking at ways to keep course work going if the COVID-19 pandemic prevents classes from resuming on April 6 as planned.
He said it's possible students will have to continue their classes online during the global outbreak.
The province has already created an online learning portal to help prevent students from falling behind, and is looking at expanding online courses.
Online learning 'not a possibility' for some students
The president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, which represents trustees, said boards across Ontario are grappling with how to deliver programming to students.
"I think it would be unwise to make the assumption that this will be done in two weeks," Cathy Abraham said. "So, what are we going to do to meet the kids where they are? We do recognize there are many families in our province who don't have access to the internet."
Abraham said boards will spend the next two weeks planning individual approaches that meet the needs of their communities.
"It's not going to be what we're used to," she said. "It's not going to be the same as being in a classroom. But there is a need for our kids to continue with some learning of some kind."
Jan Johnstone, chair of the Bluewater District School Board, a rural board with 16,000 students in Bruce and Grey counties, said parents are already expressing concerns that online learning won't work for them.
That board is investigating preparing paper lesson packages that bus drivers could deliver to students.
"We've already been hearing from parents saying they live in a zone that doesn't have internet connection," Johnstone said. "Even though we are telling people to go to the province's online course, for some of our families in rural Ontario that is not a possibility."
John Howitt, the education director for the Lambton-Kent District
School Board, said that board with 21,000 students in southwestern Ontario, is considering mailing paper learning packages to families.
"We have to be aware of students who aren't able to access online learning. Therefore, we need to be creative in our planning," said Howitt.
University of Toronto professor Charles Pascal, who once served as a deputy minister of education in Ontario, said the government's online learning portal isn't a long-term solution for students, calling it a "stop-gap."
He urged the government to consult with experts in the education system, school boards, teachers and parents.
"We have to re-invent something that will be useful and working in about a month," he said
Follow these links to access Ontario's online learning portals: