TORONTO — Ontario schools will move indefinitely to online learning when classes resume next week after spring break, the province announced Monday.
Premier Doug Ford said community spread of COVID-19 is too high to risk having students congregate after the break.
He argued that schools are safe but said the province must "do everything possible" to bring infections down during the "critical" next few weeks.
"We simply can't be too cautious right now, we have to be proactive," Ford said Monday. "When it comes to keeping our kids safe I will never take unnecessary risk."
He said the government will decide based on COVID-19 data when in-person classes can resume.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said boards will be directed to support in-person special education instruction for students who can't learn remotely.
He said child care for non-school aged children, and for children of frontline workers, will continue during the closure.
Lecce said the closure of in-person learning is a "sadly necessary precaution" as the province battles a third wave of infections that is straining intensive care units. He said the aim of the closure is to tackle community spread.
"Know that we remain committed to returning to learning in-person as soon as it is safe to do so," he said.
The announcement came days after a provincewide shutdown took effect in light of skyrocketing infections and hospitalization numbers.
Spring break began Monday after the province postponed it in March to discourage travel during the pandemic.
The government had previously maintained that schools would reopen next week but unions had called for schools to close in the absence of stronger safety measures.
Unions have also called for all teachers to be vaccinated before in-person learning resumes. The province has said special education staff and educators in virus hot spots in Toronto and Peel will be eligible for vaccines this week.
Schools in Toronto, Peel and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph health units moved classes online last week in light of rising case COVID-19 counts.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press