Simcoe Muskoka schools to remain open during stay-at-home order

Schools across Simcoe Muskoka will remain open for in-class learning during the province-wide stay-at-home order that takes effect Thursday at 12:01 am.

On Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce told CP24 the stay-at-home order would not require any schools to close. "It will not involve any closures of schools. It was our promise to keep schools open and to keep them safe."

During his announcement Wednesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said education workers in COVID-19 hot spots would have access to vaccines starting next week. Whether that will include Simcoe Muskoka has yet to be revealed.

In a statement to CTV News regarding the 28-day stay-at-home order, the Catholic school board's communications manager, Pauline Stevenson, said board chairs and directors would be meeting with the Ministry of Education in hopes of finding out details. "Until we have that context from the ministry, it would be premature for us to comment about the province's reported stay-at-home order and its impact on schools."

Public health officials have the power to close schools to in-person learning; however, Simcoe Muskoka health unit's top doctor said Wednesday afternoon that he would not follow other public health officials' lead and order schools to close.

Dr. Charles Gardner noted the importance of school for student's mental health, adding the situation is being closely monitored and subject to changes at any time.

Ford maintains schools aren't where the virus is spreading, stating infections are happening in communities. "When the kids go back into the community, that's where it's happening. It's not happening in the schools."

Students will return to virtual learning in Toronto, Peel and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph under public health orders, citing concern over rising community infections over the Easter long weekend.

"We've had nearly 300 cases since Thursday. We closed more classrooms in one day than we did at any time in the pandemic. What we saw, also, was our seven-day rate of cases quadrupled," Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph's medical officer of health, Dr. Nicola Mercer, said.

York Region's public school board passed a motion to ask the region's top doctor to close schools and allow them to return to online learning.

Meanwhile, the Simcoe Muskoka health unit listed four active school outbreaks in Simcoe County at W.H. Day Public School and Holy Trinity Catholic High School, both in Bradford, Good Shepherd Catholic School in Barrie, and Boyne River Public School in Alliston.

With files from CP24