Toronto

Ontario Liberal leader calls on premier to allow regional approach to school reopening

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is calling on the provincial government to let local public health units decide if and when schools in their regions should reopen this school year as COVID-19 case numbers continue to drop — and at least one regional medical officer of health agrees.

Public health units, with help of school boards, could make decision, Steven Del Duca says

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is calling on the province to let local public health units decide if schools in their regions should reopen this year. (Frank Gunn / Canadian Press)

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is calling on the province to let local public health units decide if schools in their regions should reopen this year as COVID-19 case numbers continue to drop — and at least one regional medical officer of health agrees.

Del Duca told reporters at a virtual news conference on Wednesday that public health units have the information they need to make the decision, they could work with local school boards on the details, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford should allow them to do so. 

"Today, I am urging Doug Ford to provide the support to our public health units to give public health units right across Ontario the authority to make the decisions," Del Duca said.

"I know those public health units will work closely with the respective school boards that they have in their local regions to make the kind of local decisions that will serve the interests of the school system and that will serve the interests, most importantly, of our kids and their parents."

Del Duca said letting the public health units and school boards make the call is the "most prudent and responsible" approach. Schools in Ontario have been shut to in-person learning since early to mid-April.

The Liberal leader said Ford should consult all organizations in the education system, including those that represent teachers, principals, early childhood educators, school support staff, bus drivers, school boards and trustees, to make plans for the reopening of schools for in-person learning in September.

Del Duca said a "one-size-fits-all" approach by Ford will not work because the government has not shown a willingness to ensure the publicly funded school system is safe and it does not value it.

"I trust the local public health units, the local school boards," he said. "Let them make the decisions that make the most sense for the families in each of their regions."

WATCH | CBC's Chris Glover reports on the call for a regional approach to reopening schools:

Will in-class learning resume in Ontario before summer break?

2 months ago
2:02
With just a few weeks remaining before the summer break, the big question on parents’ minds remains: will kids be heading back to class this year? Chris Glover has details on where things stand. 2:02

Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email on Wednesday the ministry is working with Dr. David Williams, the province's chief medical officer of health, on the issue. Clark declined to say if there are any current plans to reopen schools this year.

"Our priority is to keep students, staff and families safe. While the chief medical officer of health has confirmed that schools have been safe, we will continue to work with him, with other medical experts and education partners across Ontario on a path forward, as we continue making progress in our battle against COVID-19," Clark said.

York Region schools could reopen now, medical officer says

Dr. Karim Kurji, medical officer of health for York Region, said the criteria have been met for a safe school reopening this year in his jurisdiction. He said more than 70 per cent of adults in the region have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As well, daily case counts been dropping, he added.

"Definitely so," Kurji said in response to a question as to whether schools should reopen locally. 

"We are urging those consultations happen on an urgent basis and schools reopen as soon as possible. From York Region's standpoint, they could reopen any time now," he said.

"We could take a regional approach. We in York Region are ready for schools to be reopened right away if the processes with the ministries of education and health allow that to be the case."

Kurji said local medical officers of health have the most data and should be granted the "liberty of deciding" whether schools reopen for in-person learning.

Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region's medical officer of health, says: 'We could take a regional approach now. We in York Region are ready for schools to be reopened right away if the processes with the ministries of education and health allow that to be the case.' (CBC)

On Tuesday, Williams said he would like to see schools reopen as early as next week in some regions. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, and Dr. Lawrence Loh, de Villa's counterpart in Peel Region, said they are still waiting to see if COVID-19 case counts drop further in their jurisdictions.

"I am in favour of schools reopening under circumstances that allow them to open safely," de Villa said.

She said Toronto Public Health will wait for the province to make its decision, but added the circumstances have to be right and safe for children, staff and teachers.

De Villa also cautioned that local medical officers have advice and a "valuable perspective," but their focus is really public health and not the operation of schools.

In a statement, Loh said: "We continue to monitor the numbers in Peel and are optimistic that they are trending in a favourable direction that, if maintained, might support a return to in-person learning."

The Toronto District School Board, for its part, said schools could open in short order once a decision is made.

"While we have not received any indication yet from the Ministry of Education with regard to students possibly returning to in-person learning, if we were directed by the Ministry to return to in-person learning this school year, we should be able to get up and running relatively quickly — perhaps a few days," TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said in an email on Wednesday.

With files from Chris Glover and The Canadian Press

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now