Ontario’s education minister says April break to go ahead as planned for now

Ontario's education minister says April break to go ahead as planned for now Photo Credit: The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Spring break for Ontario’s schools will go ahead as planned next month, at least for now, the education minister said Tuesday, drawing criticism for not providing enough clarity on the matter. 

Stephen Lecce said the government will let families know if recommendations from the province’s top doctor necessitate a change to the break scheduled for the week of April 12.

“When it comes to April break, we plan to proceed,” Lecce said in the legislature. 

“If anything changes, given the day-to-day change and fluctuations of the COVID-19 numbers in Ontario, we’ll make sure all families know that well in advance.”

The province decided earlier this year to delay the March break until April in an effort to curb COVID-19 cases, saying it wanted to discourage group gatherings and travel over that time.

With infections now rising in the province once more, questions had been raised about whether the government might alter spring break once again. 

Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he couldn’t give a direct answer on whether the break would be postponed or altered.

“To be very frank, I don’t want to predict two weeks out,” Ford said Monday.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government needs to give families and teachers a clear answer. 

“The ongoing uncertainty around our education system is problematic. It’s not what kids and students and teachers and parents need right now,” she said Tuesday. 

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, was critical of the idea of postponing or cancelling spring break. 

He said that the government’s failure to contain the spread of COVID-19 has led to the possibility of another postponement even though teachers need the break for their mental health.

“If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during the break, these should be addressed by the government through other means than cancelling the break,” said Hammond in a statement. 

“They can introduce community safety protocols, and allow students, education workers and families, who’ve been under tremendous pressure throughout the pandemic, to have their much-needed break.”

Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board asked principals on Monday to be prepared for the possibility that students may not return to in-person learning after spring break. 

“(It) was reiterating what we’ve said since the beginning of the school year — that we need to be prepared if individual classes or schools need to close as a result of COVID,” spokesman Ryan Bird said of the memo sent to principals. 

“It’s not that we have any new information, but given the circumstances, we just wanted to remind our schools.”

Jennifer Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, said that her membership has been flexible throughout the pandemic and has consistently done what’s in the best interest for their students and public education. However, she said that ample notice must be given to educators and parents if any school boards plan to return to online learning because it takes a lot of work to make it run smoothly.

“If it’s a necessity to pivot to keep everyone safe then so be it, but this government needs to call it in advance,” said Brown. “Last-minute situations are not appropriate. People need to plan.”

Lecce did not discuss the prospect of moving learning online following spring break on Tuesday but said the government is planning to step up safety protocols when students and staff return to in-class learning on April 19. 

He said that plan will be announced in the coming days.

“We’re committed to expanding testing as well as stronger screening protocols before a student and a potential case enters a school,” he said. “We appreciate the challenge that this pandemic has imposed to working parents.”

Ontario reported 341 new cases of COVID-19 among children under the age of 17 on Tuesday. Ninety-five were between the ages of four and eight, 131 were between the ages of nine and 13, and 115 were between the ages of 14 and 17.

Later Tuesday, Ford said the government was considering additional restrictions to combat a recent surge in COVID-19. 

The premier did not specify what new measures his government was contemplating but said he will consult the province’s top doctor before making a decision.

Ontario reported 2,336 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 14 more deaths from the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2021.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press