April Break just got a lot longer. The Region of Peel issued an order this week to close all schools in the region for two weeks, ahead of a confirmed plan by the province to issue a four-week stay-at-home order within the province. The region said Monday that the order would run through at least Apr. 18, and that further extensions to the order “will be made, as required,” according to representatives from the region.
The move was motivated by a number of outbreaks at schools within Caledon, Brampton and Mississauga, including the closure of more than 17 schools within the region and outbreaks within elementary and secondary schools. Under the order, schools were ordered to switch to remote-only instruction, with the second week reserved for the delayed “April Break” vacation.
Public health officials in Peel said the move was a “necessary step to protect staff and students” in the region. “With increasing case counts and the presence of variants of concern, we need to break chains of transmission and keep our schools safe,” said Peel’s medical officer of health, Dr. Lawrence Loh. “I know this will be challenging for parents to navigate and we appreciate all the sacrifices parents continue to make as we continue to fight COVID-19 in our community.”
The decision to close schools and move learning online were seemingly left to the discretion of public health units, with neighbouring regions, including Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Toronto — the latter of which made the jump Wednesday after several schools indicated they would voluntarily move to the virtual format.
Sources over the past several months have pointed to several factors, including apathy over current provincial restrictions, poor ventilation and inconsistent guidelines as driving factors for outbreaks at multiple schools. Despite that, however, education minister Stephen Lecce appeared on television as recently as Apr. 1 to ensure residents in the province that schools would remain open. “Students deserve to be in class,”
Lecce said in a public statement. However, public pressure and a new poll showing that the public popularity of Premier Doug Ford has declined in the past three months, which a market research company attributed to the province’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccine, may have prompted immediate action to address the issue.
No timeline has been given for when schools could reopen, but with the current stay-at-home order in place, it is expected that school closures will also be affected. “The health and safety of students and staff in schools, along with a strong commitment to student learning, continue to be our main focus,” said Peel District School Board’s director of education, Colleen Russell-Rawlins