The last time that Ontario students stepped foot inside their classrooms was the day before March Break, and Tuesday it was revealed that they won’t be going back until after Labour Day. The fate of the school year is one of a couple of new announcements from Queen’s Park today, along with updates to the emergency orders, and the announcement that the Provincial government will be looking into what happened in long term care homes.
“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids in this province, bar none over anything,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “Today’s announcement gives parents certainty, knowing that their children can continue to learn safely at home and that we have a plan for child care as we work to gradually reopen more of our economy, when it is safe to do so.”
At the Ontario government’s daily coronavirus briefing Tuesday, Ford said that the decision was made in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other medical professionals. The government also promised that all students on track to graduate when schools closed will still be able to graduate next month, and all students will get their report cards.
With schools now officially closed until September, the government says that they’re looking ahead to making schools safe for learning again in the fall, and at the same time they’re going to bolster online learning tools to make sure that learning can continue for Ontario students no matter the circumstances. The Ministry of Education will also expand the summer learning plan so that students can stay on top of their studies as they hopefully head back to school later this year.
“I want to provide the reassurance that a plan is in development for the eventual return to school in September,” said Director of Education Tamara Nugent of the Wellington Catholic District School Board in a letter to parents. “It will involve working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education, the Chief Medical Officer of Health,Dr. Williams, the leadership team of Sick Kids, and the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health Unit, to ensure that the appropriate health and safety and other measures are in place.
“We can anticipate that school will not look the same as it has previously,” Nugent added. “We will place the health and well-being of our community above all other considerations. This will include comprehensive protocols for physical distancing, hygiene, and cleaning. Plans will be shared with you, prior to the start of the new school year.”
“We will never waver from our commitment to keep your child safe, while learning at home,” added Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “Our plan will ensure students receive the best educational experience, both inside and outside the classroom, during this difficult time. That is why we are strengthening summer learning opportunities, reopening summer day camps, and it is why we will continue to make the case for synchronous, live, and dynamic learning.”
The re-opening of those indoor and outdoor day camps is not exactly a certainty, and will depend on whether “key public health indicators continue to improve.” Overnight camps though will remain cancelled for the summer of 2020.
In other news, Minister of Long-Term Care Dr. Merrilee Fullerton came out of the long weekend with a plan to look at the status of long term care homes and the impact of COVID-19, but it’s not the kind of inquiry that many people have been calling for.
“Today, I am announcing that we will be launching an independent commission into Ontario’s long-term care system beginning in September,” said Fullerton in a statement. “Over the next several months, our government will be finalizing details of the commission including terms of reference, membership, leadership of the commission and reporting timelines.”
An analysis of COVID-19 death rates in Ontario’s long term care homes by the Ontario Health Coalition, which was released on May 6, tracked 1,057 deaths in long term care homes. The current number of deaths from COVID-19 in Ontario is now over 1,900, which shows that Ontario’s senior population in community living remains the hardest hit in terms of the number of fatalities even two weeks after the OHC published their analysis.
“Already even prior to COVID-19 it has been recognized that the current model of delivering long term care has to be overhauled,”said Rabbi Shalom Schachter. who crunched the numbers on the OHC report. “The pandemic has brought to the fore the consequences of the current model. The overhaul should respond to the ways that ownership impacts quality and outcomes of care.”
It’s also the reason why all opposition leaders in Ontario have called for a public inquiry into the administration of long term care homes, and they noted today the distinction between that and an independent commission.
“There is a big difference between a public inquiry, which has a legal definition and a prescribed process, and a commission open to manipulation by the government of the day,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner in a statement.
“I am concerned that a government controlled commission will not provide the answers and solutions that Ontarians deserve,” Schreiner added. “History will judge us by how we learn from the mistakes of the past and make changes to care for our elders with dignity.”
“We have been clear the long-term care system in Ontario is broken. We must act quickly and decisively, and that is why an independent non-partisan commission is the best way to conduct a thorough and expedited review,” countered Fullerton. “Ontarians need and deserve answers, and let me assure you, they will get them.”
In other news Tuesday, the Government extended the provincial emergency orders until May 29, which includes the closure of bars and restaurants (save for takeout and delivery), redeployment of staff at long term care homes, and a ban on gatherings of larger than five people. This comes on the same day that Ontario officially enters its first stage of the framework to re-open the economy.
“Although we are entering the first stage of our framework to reopen the economy, it’s critical that we continue to do so in a safe and responsible manner,” said Ford. “The people of Ontario have been doing a fantastic job to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of this terrible virus. With warmer weather beginning, individuals and families will now be able to enjoy many outdoor amenities, but everyone must continue to maintain physical distancing from those outside of their household.”