Windsor-Essex students can return to their classrooms on Monday, Feb. 8 according to an announcement from the Ontario government.

The province’s top physician Dr. David Williams and Education Minister Stephen Lecce revealed Wednesday the return to school date for the region.

Windsor-Essex schools have been closed to in-person learning since Dec. 14, when Windsor-Essex medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed issued an order one week before the winter break. That order expired and the region is now under provincial orders.

Ahmed gave an epidemiological presentation on Wednesday morning regarding the reopening of schools. He said he supports students being allowed to return to classrooms.

Ahmed said indicators are pointing in the right direction for students to return.

 COVID-19 case rates in Windsor-Essex are dropping. WECHU says the local case rate is now 82.9 per 100,000 population, compared to a peak case rate of 360 per 100,000.

“Our school-aged cases are dropping below our overall case rate which is a good sign, suggesting that there is minimal or low-risk with respect to the school-aged children returning back to school,” said Dr. Ahmed.

He said most children get COVID-19 from household contacts, not school transmission.

“Most of the cases in November it’s a mix of household contacts, which is, of course, no surprise,” he says.

Health Unit CEO Theresa Marentette says they will be ready when the doors open to students.

“We still have the school nurses that will support the schools and we have all of the protocols in place,” says Marentette.

Students in the COVID-19 hot spots of Windsor-Essex, Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Hamilton are the only ones in the province who are not yet back in classrooms. Schools in Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London and Southwestern returned to in-person learning Feb.1 and northern Ontario schools were permitted to reopen on Jan. 11.

Schools in Toronto, Peel, and York regions return to in-person learning on Feb. 16, all other regions will be retuning on Feb. 8.

Some Windsor-Essex children with special needs have been back in class since Jan. 4. Students in all regions can opt to continue online learning.

Parents relieved

Windsor-Essex parents who spoke with CTV News said the juggling act of virtual learning and balancing a home life has been difficult.

“She needs to go back for her sanity,” said parent Ashley Pelosi I need them to go back for my sanity.”

“Our work schedules, everything is kind of based around kids going to school, so if parents can’t do that than what,” Aaron Pelosi asked.

Parent Sarah Snape said she is looking forward to her daughter getting back to the classroom.

“To me I feel like she’s missing out on a lot of learning right now trying to do it virtually, and trying to be a teacher when I’m not,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to the return, that’s for sure. It definitely weighs on your mental health that’s for sure.”

Local teachers’ unions disagree with timing

“What I would have liked to have seen was when you had the first boards open was there an increase in community spread etc.,” said Erin Roy, district 9 president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

The president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers’ Federation Mario Spagnuolo welcomes the return to school, but says not enough has been done to address class size, ventilation improvements or enhanced PPE

“We have not heard that the return to school will be safe because the measures haven’t been put in place to make them safe,” he said.

The province also announced Wednesday it has introduced further safety measures including voluntary asymptomatic testing for students and staff, providing cloth masks to schools as back-up supply, enhanced screening for secondary students and staff, as well as the temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates to stabilize staffing levels.

Both the Greater Essex County District School Board and the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board have information on their websites with how the return to school on Monday will work and the new health measures.