See you in September: Ontario cancels rest of school year

Empty School classroom

"It is clear that we cannot open schools at this time, I'm just not going to risk it," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday, confirming the rest of the school year has been cancelled. 

Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce had previously said during the pandemic that if there was any way to salvage some of the school year, they wanted to keep the option open. 

But Ford said with only a few weeks left, it couldn't be done and he wasn't interested in pilot projects or experiments in less affected regions. 

"Some areas don't have any COVID cases, but why chance it? For a few weeks, it's just not worth it," he said. "When it comes to our children, I've said many times, I am not going to chance anything." 

But the decision leaves many parents in a bind, as it comes the same day as the start of three-stage process of reopening the economy. 

Stage 1 is scheduled to go for two to four weeks, and includes all retail locations with a street entrance available to open.

But restarting daycares won't happen until Stage 2 of the recovery and in a gradual way.

Ford said additional direct financial support to payments - they have already received $200 and $250 depending on the age of their child - is on the table. 

Lecce says at-home learning plans will continue and should the conditions satisfy the province's top medical officers, indoor and outdoor summer day camps may be permitted in July and August. 

Overnight camps have been cancelled and the City of Toronto has cancelled its summer day camps. 

As for how daycares will operate, Lecce says they'll be based on the current procedures at daycare facilities that are serving the children of front-line workers. 

Rules include no more than 50 people per centre, every staffer has to be screened and no one outside of the staff and children can enter. 

"That is a framework we will be using or looking at using to guide the reopening plan, we're going to give notice to our operators that they can prepare accordingly," he said.  

When it comes to summer school, Lecce says it will continue with new physical distancing protocols. 

"It is going to be based on in-class instruction with very strong protocols in place, in addition to a virtual component for those that may not want to go in class or feel comfortable," he said. 

Lecce said the goal is to start the next school year on-time in September with new physical distancing guidelines, which will be revealed before the end of June. 

"How many students ought to be in a class and what the appropriate spacing is," Lecce said are questions that will be addressed, under the direction of the province's chief medical officer of health. "What's the mobility within schools, what are they able to access, restrooms with someone walking them to that space, are recreational activities like gym going to be part of that norm, these are all fair questions." 

Students will receive report cards and Ford said everything is being done to allow students to graduate, acknowledging this was a difficult decision. 

"The health and safety of our kids will always, always come first, nothing is more important," he said.