Peel schools ordered to close despite Ford government's 'firm belief' they should remain open

Schools in Peel Region have been ordered to close and switch to remote learning only despite the provincial government saying it's their "firm belief" they should remain open.

Students in Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga will move to online learning from April 6 through to April 18 after Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh used his discretionary powers under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close schools.

All April Break spring camps for school-age children will also be cancelled.

"This closure is a necessary step to protect staff and students in Peel Region," Loh said Monday. "With increasing case counts and the presence of variants of concern, we need to break chains of transmission and keep our schools safe."

Officials said Spring Break will still go forward as planned during the week of April 12 to 16.

Children under six years of age, who are not attending school, will be able to continue to attend licenced childcare programs.

In a statement Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said it is the government’s "firm belief" that schools should remain open for in-person learning in Ontario.

"They are critical to student mental health," a statement from Lecce's office said. "Due to our strong infection prevention measures, 99 per cent of students and staff have no active cases of COVID-19, however we must remain vigilant and keep our guard up in order to keep schools safe and open."

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said while the last-minute closure will be "challenging" for many parents, it’s the "right thing to do."

"Dr. Loh thinks the right thing to do is to really reduce the risk of transmission right now, so schools is the first and I am letting you know that he is also looking at different and other restrictive measures as well," Crombie said.

Loh is one of three top doctors in Ontario who have written a letter to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams calling for the Ford government to issue a provincewide stay-at-home order.

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health (TPH) said Monday that while it continues to monitor COVID-19 cases in schools, it is not recommending the shift to remote learning at this time.

"TPH will continue to manage risk on a school-by-school basis, taking immediate and appropriate action to address these complex outbreaks," a spokesperson for TPH said in a statement.

"This decision will be revisited on a daily basis, and further recommendations may be made in the near future in partnership with our local school boards and the province."

Public health officials in both York Region and Durham Region also said they have no plans at this time to close schools. 

Officials with the Upper Grand District School Board said students in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph will also move virtual learning starting on Wednesday.

An emailed statement from the UGDSB said the region's medical officer of health met with directors of education on Monday afternoon. Dr. Nicola Mercer is expected to issue a Section 22 order on Tuesday, closing all in-person learning in the region.

According to the UGDSB, schools will close from April 7 to April 18, with a possibility of extension.