Ontario education minister says publicly-funded schools closed until at least May 31

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that all publicly funded schools will remain closed until at least May 31.

Province doesn't see need to extend school year and online learning will continue, minister says

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says the provincial government has decided to keep publicly-funded schools closed until at least May 31 amid COVID-19. The extension will enable the province to review data before deciding whether there can be any possible return to school this year. (CBC)

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that all publicly funded schools will remain closed until at least May 31.

At a news conference on Sunday, Lecce said the decision was made based on the advice of Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, and the province's COVID-19 Command Table. He said the announcement is also to provide students, parents and teachers with "greater certainty" as the pandemic continues.

"We are going to ensure that safety remains our paramount priority," Lecce said at Queen's Park.

Lecce said the extension will enable the provincial government to review data before deciding whether there can be any possible return to school this year.

In a news release on Sunday, he added: "The government is taking a careful approach which provides our medical experts the time to review the modelling and make the best decision for the safety of our students and the future of learning." 

The ministry is monitoring the "evolving situation" and the closure "may be extended further to protect the health and safety of Ontario's school communities," according to the release. 

Lecce, however, said the next time he makes an announcement on the school year, he will provide a final update on what the year will look like.

"By then, we will know and we will have updated data and better modelling and we'll be able to provide final predictability to those who seek it for the students and their parents, and of course, for those in the education system themselves," Lecce said.

The ministry has cancelled all remaining professional activity days left, seven of which were scheduled for high schools and two of which were scheduled for elementary schools. The days will be used for learning instead, he added.

Lecce said that, at this point, the government doesn't see a need to extend the school year. The province has begun to build a summer learning program and to plan for September, he added.

Students to be able to complete school year

In the news release, he added: "Regardless of what transpires over the coming weeks, Ontario's students will be able to complete their school year with confidence.

"In particular, for students in their final year, we are removing all impediments to ensure students graduate and pursue post-secondary education." 

At the news conference, he added: "We have removed the impediments to graduation."

Lecce said students will continue their classes through their online learning program, which launched on April 6.

He said more than 20,000 iPads have been distributed to students whose families don't have the means to access the internet. He added that school boards have been given $75 million a year for technology.

Meanwhile, Lecce said private schools, First Nations schools and licensed child-care centres are currently set to be closed until May 6.

In the news release, the province said should schools be permitted to reopen, school employees will have access as of May 29.

"We've taken a staged approach. If there is way to save some of the school year at the back end, then we will consider that based on the advice of the command table," Lecce said.

Paramedics, respiratory therapists left out of pay increase

Unions representing hundreds of Ontario paramedics and respiratory therapists say they're frustrated after being left out a $4 per hour "pandemic pay premium" dedicated to workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Premier Doug Ford announced the raise on Saturday, attributing the pay bump to the "incredible effort" and "sacrifice" of front-line workers. 

While that was good news for many, it left some Ontario unions scrambling to get the workers they represent included in the salary increase. 

"We're pretty frustrated, it's not about the money, [it's] the disrespect it shows," said Dave Wakely, president of OPSEU Local 277, the Peel paramedics union. 

"I am super happy that the government stepped up to give front-line workers a bit of extra money for COVID-19, but I am a little bit flabbergasted that he omitted some really important players in the health-care system." 

Wakely said paramedics are working in homeless shelters and long-term care homes, both of which have seen surges in COVID-19 outbreaks

"It could be an oversight, but throughout this disaster the premier has forgotten paramedics," Wakely told CBC Toronto. "We're just kind of puzzled about what the government's intention is." 

The Respiratory Therapy Society of Ontario (RTSO) is set to hold an emergency board meeting Sunday after members found out they were left out of pay increase, RTSO president Sue Jones told CBC Toronto. 

Jones said they will also discuss communication pathways for RTSO members, as they have had many inquiries since the announcement of the pandemic pay. 

Those set to receive the raise, which will last four months, include staff working in various environments, including hospitals, correctional facilities and long-term care homes.

"It's our way of saying thank you," Ford said Saturday, adding it will also serve to attract more people to these vital fields.

Those working 100 hours or more per month will also receive lump sum payments of $250 each month.

The provincial government said 350,000 workers across the province will qualify, including nurses, personal support workers, correctional workers and support staff.

The raises apply to those who work in emergency shelters, supportive housing, youth justice facilities, home and community care providers and some staff in hospitals.

Provincial death toll tops 900

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 437 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. 

The total number of cases now stands at 14,432, which is 3.1 per cent more than the total reported on Saturday, according to the provincial health ministry. That's the lowest growth rate the province has seen in weeks.

The official death toll now sits at 835. However, CBC News has collected data from regional public health units and counted at least 948 deaths.

Some 8,000 cases are now considered resolved.

The province said it processed 12,020 COVID-19 samples since its last update, while 7,417 samples are currently waiting to be assessed. 

Hospitalizations rose to 938 from 925 on Saturday.

The number of patients in intensive care units rose slightly, bringing the new total to 252. The number of patients on ventilators, meanwhile, remained at 195. 

147 long-term care homes now have outbreaks

As of Sunday, 147 homes continue to grapple with outbreaks of COVID-19. 

Overall, a total of 654 people in long-term care homes have died of COVID-19 in Ontario, according to data provided by the provincial health ministry on Sunday. Some 2,520 residents and 1,161 staff members have tested positive.

Five long-term care homes in Ontario have reported more than 20 deaths each:

  • Orchard Villa, 40 deaths, 104 resident cases, 59 staff cases. 
  • Eatonville Care Centre, 38 deaths, 143 cases.
  • Altamont Community Care Centre, 31 resident deaths and one staff member, 96 resident cases, five staff cases. 
  • Pinecrest Nursing Home: 28 deaths.
  • Mon Sheong Home for the Aged: 27 deaths, 50 resident cases, 16 staff cases.
  • Anson Place Care Centre: 27 deaths.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced that all publicly-funded schools will remain closed until at least May 31. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

At the province's daily COVID-19 briefing on Saturday, Ford said much needs to be done to improve the cracks in Ontario's long-term care system, which have been amplified as a result of the pandemic. 

"This crisis has clearly shown the deeply rooted longstanding cracks in our long-term care system. We need to do better. And we will do better," Ford said.