Ontario school students and their parents will likely remember last year’s March Break as the last time that there was in-person learning until this past September. The pandemic hit our shores on the same week as March Break in 2020, and with school only recently going back to in-person learning here in Ontario, the Minister of Education has decided that March Break will happen, just happen a month later.
“In support of our collective efforts to keep schools safe, we are postponing March break until April 12-16, 2021,” Stephen Lecce announced at Queen’s Park Thursday afternoon. “This decision was made with the best advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health officials, including consultations with many local Medical Officers of Health.”
There’s been some question in recent days about the status of March Break next month; some suspected that the Government of Ontario might cancel the one week break because of the interruption to in-person learning for the last month, while others felt it was important to keep that pause to give students and educators time off in the midst of a stressful school year.
Lecce’s announcement framed the deciding factor as a matter of public health saying that cases went way up over the holiday break while students were out of school.
“To keep schools open, we must keep them free of COVID-19. The actions announced today serve to limit opportunities for congregation – while reaffirming the evidence that schools are safe for students,” Lecce explained. “By continuing to follow public health advice, and by introducing additional safety measures and more testing, we are supporting our collective efforts to keep COVID-19 from entering our schools.”
Like many decisions from this government concerning education there’s friction with the teachers’ unions. The four unions released a joint statement after Lecce’s announcement accusing the Minister of putting the mental health and well-being of students at risk by delaying March Break, and for blaming students and educators for the recent high rate of cases and the potential spread of dangerous variants.
“This decision demonstrates their lack of understanding about the stress and pressures of learning and working in a pandemic,” said union leaders in the statement. “Teachers and education workers have gone to extraordinary lengths to teach and support students every day since the start of the school year, whether in person or online. Their efforts should be applauded not diminished.”
“If there are concerns related to travel and gatherings during March Break, these should be addressed by the government through other means,” they added.
Unsurprisingly, Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath sided with teachers.
“Parents with kids doing at-home learning are desperate to take a breath from their superhuman juggling of work, school and other responsibilities. Teachers are exhausted. Kids need a mental health break from the screens and the stress,” Horwath said in a statement. “We have to find a way to give everyone a Spring Break that’s safe. Just kicking the can down the road isn’t a solution.”
At a virtual scrum with media on Thursday morning, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said he was hoping that March Break would proceed to give students and teachers a needed break, but he wanted to see justification for the decision made by the Minister of Education.
“I do think having a March Break makes a lot of sense whether or not it takes place in the exact window that it was originally scheduled for,” Del Duca said. “I would want to see what public health experts have to say about it, especially considering the new variants of the virus I want to make sure that we are balancing public safety, but I do believe that the system, and our students, need a bit of a breather so that they can finish the school year as strongly as possible.”
The Upper Grand District School Board has updated their website to confirm the change of date for March Break, and noted that there will have to be changes to the school calendars to reschedule events and plans for the week of April 12. An added complication is that the Easter long week end is April 2, which means that the week before March Break is a four-day week.