Schools in seven public health units in southern Ontario will reopen to in-person learning on Jan. 25, while the rest will continue learning from home.
The list includes Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; Hastings and Prince Edward Counties; Leeds, Grenville and Lanark; Peterborough; Renfrew County Grey Bruce; Haliburton, Kawartha, and Pine Ridge.
For one Kingston family, the news brought on a sigh of relief.
Ryan and Nicole Carroll are not only tending to the care of a newborn child but juggling online learning for an elementary school and high school student.
“Lennox was asking me about fractions. I haven’t done fractions since I was in Grade 5,” Ryan told Global News outside the family’s home on Friday.
Last year their son Lennox was diagnosed with high functioning autism. With in-person learning being put on pause in December, the couple says they’ve struggled without the same support available in the classroom.
“The programming that comes with the schooling — they come in, and they assess him, and they teach him,” said Nicole. “I can’t do that as a parent. I try my best, but I’m definitely not a specialized team.”
Lennox is heading back to class on Monday along with about 100-thousand other students across Ontario.
Dr. Gerald Evans, the chair of the infectious diseases division at Queen’s University, told Global News that if the community continues to follow COVID-19 protocols—future school closures will be less likely.
“The key is community prevalence, and that’s why I’m so enthusiastic with southeastern Ontario,” Evans said.
“Our community prevalence is very low. That means we can safely open schools.”
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Experts at Sick Kids are calling for more mask-wearing and testing as schools plan to reopen.
In a new report, experts say schools need to ramp up COVID-19 testing for all students and staff. They are also recommending mandatory indoor masking for students Grade 1 and up, and a focus on cohorting younger children for better socializing. The experts say the closure of schools should be a last resort, with a goal of striking a balance between managing the risk of virus spread, and the well-being of students.
According to Dr. Evans, rapid testing should also begin within schools.
“We have the availability of rapid tests, particularly the rapid antigen test,” said Dr. Evans. “[School students] is a population that I would be using those particular tests because it’s not as good as our regular lab-based test, but it’s a really good test when the population you’re testing has a very low probability of being infected like school-age kids.”
Dr. Evans went on to say that with proper measures in place, he doesn’t expect large COVID-19 outbreaks within schools.
However, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation worries the Ford government is rushing to get students back in the classroom.
“My members are certainly deeply concerned in places where they’re being expected to return to face-to-face instruction when they don’t have reason to believe that the government is making decisions on the basis of their and their student’s safety,” said Harvey Bischof.
In the meantime, thousands of students will be back in the classroom on Monday.
The Ontario government declared a state of emergency on Jan. 12 and extended online learning for schools in the five hot spots until Feb. 10.
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