Boards break with March tradition, will now hold April intermission

The HPEDSB Education Centre. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

 

DESIRÉE DECOSTE

STAFF WRITER

With everything else that has happened throughout the 2020-21 school year, the provincial government continued with its COVID-19 inspired unpredictability and  announced Thursday that the annual March Break will be delayed to the week of April 12, 2021.

The decision was made with the best advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and public health officials, including consultations with many local Medical Officers of Health.

What this means for students and staff at Hastings Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) is school will proceed as usual for the week of March 15-21, 2021, and there will be no school for the week of April 12-16, 2021.

Director of Education for HPEDSB, Sean Monteith.

“I realize this decision by the Ministry of Education is not going to please everyone,” stated Director of Education for HPEDSB Sean Monteith. “I continue to hear from students, families and staff about the emotional rollercoaster they feel they are on, and have been for the past 11 months. For many families, taking another week off work in the middle of March was not an option. As Director of Education, I look at what is reasonable and, at this time, suggest we try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes to understand their perspectives.” 

On Feb. 2, 2021 the Ministry consulted with trustees’ associations, teacher federations, education worker unions, and principal and vice-principal associations to get their valuable perspectives. Additional feedback was provided from stakeholders via written submissions. 

On Feb. 3, 2021, Ontario announced the return dates for in-person learning for all remaining Public Health Units (PHUs). As of February 16, 2021, all students across Ontario will be able to learn in-person. 

“Many students have been learning remotely since the start of 2021,” Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education said in a statement. “It’s critical we follow public health advice to protect schools and avoid a repeat of the concerning spike in youth-related cases over the winter break, when students and staff were out of schools for a prolonged period of time. We are taking this precaution based on advice from health experts, including the province’s Science Table and the Chief Medical Officer of Health, to help protect against the emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.” 

To support the safe return of in-person learning, Ontario has enhanced new measures to continue to protect students and staff against COVID-19 in the classroom. These measures include:

  • Increased provincewide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff;
  • Mandatory masking requirement for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirement for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained;
  • Providing 3.5 million high quality masks to schools as back-up supply for Grade 1-12 students;
  • Guidance discouraging students and staff from congregating before and after school; and
  • Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels.

These new measures build on the more than $1.6 billion Ontario has provided in additional resources to protect schools against the spread of COVID-19. 

Predictably, teacher’s unions including the Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation are not in favour of the delay and made a joint statement strongly oppose the government’s plan to postpone March Break.

“These are unprecedented times, and this is a much-needed break for students, teachers, education workers, and families who have been under tremendous pressure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s decision to postpone March Break does not take into consideration the mental health and well-being of those involved,” the statement said.

In terms of local COVID-19 numbers and infection rates, Monteith said everyone in the community could take pride in how the region has responded to the second wave of the pandemic.

“The Hastings and Prince Edward region has performed remarkably well during the pandemic,” expressed Director Monteith in a statement. “So well we are in one of only three regions where restrictions were recently relaxed. We all have a lot to be proud of for our ongoing efforts to be safe and follow public health advice. Another topic I want to address is about learning loss over the past 11 months. Again, I am taking a reasonable approach and ask you to do the same. Whatever learning loss has occurred, the five days of a spring break are not going to change the lifetime trajectory of a child becoming an adult. I believe we need to keep things in perspective and again ask that we respect one another’s positions.”

Director Monteith also wanted to assure the public there’s continued focus on supporting students and families during these unusual times.

“As I have said before, and want to assure you again, we continue to focus on supporting students and families during these unusual times,” Monteith added. “Even though the spread of COVID-19 may still present challenges ahead, our school and central office teams are doing all they can to ensure students are engaged in learning. Thank you for your patience and ongoing support.”

Secondary school octomester dates will be adjusted now HPEDSB has confirmed March Break has been postponed by one month.