Some students say they fear a return to online learning, as there are still questions about whether the Ontario government will delay return to the classroom amid an increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.
While Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia are all delaying return to the classroom by at least a week, by four days until the expected start date for many schools, the Ontario government has not issued a statement on the province’s plans.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Doug Ford said a decision would be made “within the next few days.” Ontario has recently broken case records, though it is still uncertain what that announcement will be.
“It’s really worrying, because in recent years we’ve been hit by a lot of surprises, and right now we do not really know what’s going on,” said Desmond Anuku, a 12th grader at Ridgemont High School who also is co-chair of the student council and co-chair of the Black Student’s Union.
“We’re a little scared because we do not want to go back … to online learning.”
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Jazzlyn Abbott, a Class 12 student at Valor School in Petawawa, Ont., Has struggled with online learning and wants to hear a decision from the province.
“It certainly makes me anxious to hear some news back from the ministry and from public health,” she said.
First to open, last to close
Since the start of the pandemic, health and education experts have stressed the importance of keeping schools open as much as possible, even as dozens of elementary schools and high schools in Ottawa reported outbreaks this month alone.
Despite these messages, Ontario students were kept out of the classroom longer than any of their peers across the country last school year.
Schools in Ottawa also closed a few days before the holiday, citing the rise in COVID cases across the region.
“Schools should be the first to open and the last to close,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of the People for Education advocacy group.
She said that while it may be worth stopping the school’s reopening for a week, it should only be to focus on vaccinating as many eligible people, and especially children, as possible.
But she said the Ontario government needs to examine what it continues to keep open as cases rise and whether they should really be prioritized over schools.
“Should the adults give up their bars, their restaurants, their sporting events, the gym, all the things they like to do, in order to better serve the two million children who go to school?” she said.
“I would argue, yes, we have to give up those things because this is our whole next generation now that is really, really being affected by this.”