York Region District School Board pushes for switch to remote learning amid surging COVID case counts

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The York Region District School Board is asking public health officials to consider issuing an order that would switch classes to online-learning only amid surging COVID-19 case counts in the community.

Trustees passed a motion during a meeting on Tuesday night formally requesting that York Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Karim Kurji use his discretionary powers under Section 22 of the Health Protection and Promotion Act to order the temporary closure of schools “in order to protect our staff, students and community at large.”

Trustees also asked that “the vaccination of teachers, administrators, caretakers and other staff within the York Region District School Board be prioritized as a matter of urgency for their safety.”

However, in a statement provided to CP24 on Wednesday morning York Region spokesperson Patrick Casey said that there are not currently any plans to order the closure of schools under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, despite decisions taken by officials in Toronto, Peel and Guelph to do so.

“COVID-19 transmission in schools in York Region remains low and to date, all school closures experienced in York Region have been closed for operational reasons,” he said.

Ministry has insisted schools are safe

The Ministry of Education has consistently contended that schools are safe and are not contributing to the spread of COVID-19.

Some public experts have, nonetheless, cast doubt on those claims. Last week Ontario Science Table Co-Chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown told reporters that “schools really reflect the level of infection in the community and once infection takes off in the community the schools amplify it.”

On Wednesday a number of education worker unions also held a joint press conference, where they called on the province to close schools in areas with high rates of transmission due to safety concerns.

“Saying schools are immune is dangerous. This government is gambling with the lives of teachers, students, families and all Ontarians,” Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) President Liz Stuart said during the press conference. “In-person learning is best, but we are not safe at our schools right now.”

There have been more than 14,000 school-related cases of COVID-19 reported since September but the Ford government has said that the positivity rate in schools is only about 0.56 per cent.

In an interview with CP24 on Wednesday morning, Education Minister Stephen Lecce slammed Ontario’s education unions for being “united in keeping kids out of class.”

Lecce conceded that “that higher COVID cases in the community poses a challenge for schools” but he said that the measures taken to protect staff and students, include asymptomatic testing, have been “robust.”

"The position of our premier and our government has been consistent. We will do whatever it takes to keep kids safe. 99 per cent of students and staff in this province in the middle of a very challenging global pandemic and a third wave do not have an active case of COVID,” he said. “That is simply the facts."