TORONTO — Schools in Ontario will remain closed until at least May 4 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday, as his government introduced a new plan for students to continue learning at home.
Ford said the continued closures have been recommended by the province’s chief medical officer of health as a way to continue to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Earlier this month, the government ordered schools closed for two weeks following March break, and had set April 6 as the date for them to reopen. But Ford acknowledged last week the closures would be extended.
On Tuesday, he said the move is about keeping students safe.
“What we do today will determine what we face tomorrow,” Ford said. “The situation continues to change day by day, hour by hour. In order to protect our children, I’m prepared to extend these closures even further if we have to.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce introduced a new plan to re-establish what he described as “teacher-led learning.”
The plan sets standards for different grade levels, ranging from five hours of work per week for Kindergarten to Grade 6 students and 10 hours of work per week for students in Grades 7 and 8.
High school students will be required to complete three hours of work per course per week for semestered students, with 1.5 hours per course each week for non-semestered students.
Lecce said the plans will incorporate online learning, but where that is not possible, telephone calls and mail-out packages will be used.
These are extraordinary timesEducation Minister Stephen Lecce
The minister said the plan will also require final report cards for all students and prioritize keeping them on track to graduate.
“These are extraordinary times,” Lecce said. “We’re moving quickly with two aims in mind. The first, to keep your child safe, the second is to keep them engaged in learning.”
Meanwhile, the director of education at the province’s largest school board told parents Monday night they are developing a plan to connect teachers to students.
The Toronto District School Board’s John Molloy said in the meantime, staff have been trying to determine what devices and internet access families have.
He asked for patience as educators connect with thousands of students to make plans for remote learning.
“As you can appreciate, this is no small task, however we have been working around the clock to ensure that as many students as possible have the opportunity to resume learning remotely next week,” Molloy said in a statement.
The government has formed a working group with the province’s education sector unions to look at options for continued learning until the pandemic abates.
Earlier on HuffPost: Ontario government rolls out tools for online learning. Story continues below
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents 83,000 public school teachers, said in a statement that it supports the temporary moves made to address the situation.
But the union’s president stressed that learning is best done “face-to-face in a classroom setting.”
“We have reminded the ministry that many students have unique and specialized needs and that some have challenging circumstances affecting their ability to engage in learning outside the classroom,” Sam Hammond said in a statement.
“It is extremely important that during this temporary situation, we strive to provide equitable and inclusive opportunities for students to advance their learning.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2020.