Ontario Extends School and Child Care Closures to Fight Spread of COVID-19

Prince Edward Collegiate Institute (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)




In light of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 outbreak, the Ontario government have announced  schools and child care centres will remain closed to teachers until May 1, 2020 and students until May 4, 2020 to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

Private schools, licensed child care centres and EarlyON programs will also remain closed until April 13, according to the Declaration of Emergency, which only allows closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time. Select centres designated to support frontline health care workers and first responders will remain open.   

This closure extension was made on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and announced by Premier Doug Ford, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Tuesday. 

“The decision to extend school closures was not made lightly. We know from the medical experts that the next two weeks will be critical in the fight against COVID-19 and that’s why we’re taking further action to keep our kids safe and healthy by having them stay home,” said Premier Ford. “At the same time, we cannot put the school year in jeopardy. That’s why we’re providing additional tools for at-home learning and ensuring students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to postsecondary education can finish their academic year and get the credits they need to graduate.” 

To ensure continuity of learning, the government is launching the second phase of Learn at Home. Developed in conjunction with education partners, the government is establishing clarity for parents, enhancing education supports, and creating opportunities for teachers and educators to connect with students.

As previously announced, no student will have their graduation compromised by COVID-19 and the Ministry of Education continues to collaborate with the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to ensure that there will be no barriers to accessing.

“We will do whatever it takes to keep students safe from COVID-19 – which is why we have extended the school closure period and why we have unveiled a teacher-led program that keeps students learning while at home,” said Minister Lecce. “By providing clarity for parents, enhancing support for students and enabling the teacher-student relationship, we are ensuring our children continue to safely learn – providing some sense of stability and hope for them amid this difficulty.”

The second phase of Learn at Home features a new set of expectations for the education community, including:

  • Reconnecting students with teachers and other school staff, including mental health workers;
  • Re-establishing teacher-led learning by grade groupings as follows:
    • Kindergarten-Grade 3: five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy and math)
    • Grades 4-6: five hours of work per student/week (focus on literacy, math, science and social studies)
    • Grades 7-8: 10 hours of work per student/week (focus on math, literacy, science and social studies)
    • Grades 9-12: three hours of work per course per week for semestered students; 1.5 hours of work per course per week for non-semestered students (focus on achieving credits/completion/graduation)
  • Leveraging digital resources and identifying alternative forms of teacher-student connectivity, such as phone and mail;
  • Developing a program of training for educators to support them in virtual learning delivery;
  • Requiring final report cards for all students;
  • Prioritizing and supporting students on track to graduate;
  • Distributing laptops and/or devices from schools as needed, while observing public health direction;
  • Maintaining a responsive posture for health care and community partner requests; and
  • Establishing formal COVID-19 working groups with education sector unions to work together, share ideas and to find solutions in the support of students.

“The province is taking extraordinary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “As we do, we need every Ontarian to continue to do their part by staying apart. Please stay home as much as possible and keep your distance from others if you must go out. Stay home, stay safe, lives depend on it.”

On March 21, 2020, Ontario launched Ontario Together, an online portal helping organizations work with the province to meet the challenges of COVID-19. The government will leverage partnerships with the telecommunication sector to provide innovative, low-cost and high-impact solutions to solve the equity challenges facing some students across Ontario. With this resource, the Ministry of Education has posted a new challenge that looks for learning solutions focused on:

  • Free or low-cost learning resources and supports for students, parents and educators;
  • Access to devices such as computers, tablets and portable wi-fi hotspots for families that need the supports; and
  • Other ideas, goods or services, for example, to support mental health and students with special education needs.

Shortly after the provincial announcement, Director of Education for Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB) Sean Monteith assured parents the health and safety of students is the Board’s main priority.

Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board Director of Education Sean Monteith. (Sarah Williams/Gazette Staff)

“This unprecedented closure is based on the advice and evidence of the Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health,” said Sean Monteith, Director of Education for Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board (HPEDSB). “There is no further information at this time regarding whether the closures will go past that date. The decision is solely based on ensuring and protecting the health and safety of the people of Ontario, including students, staff, families and our communities.”

With the sun breaking on a new, unknown and completely untested educational landscape, HPEDSB announced the following: 

  • changing our entire approach to providing education and way of doing business during this extended school closure period;
  • providing a robust and credible continuity of learning environment that will be different from the regular classroom experience by utilizing technology, virtual and online learning, and remote teacher-student contact; 
  • developing a plan for controlled access to schools to allow staff to retrieve professional materials and learning supplies, and families to access student personal belongings; 
  • making available an inventory of credible online learning resources through our HPEDSB Learning at Home website for families to use at home, and staff and students to be able to use during this closure period; and 
  • effective immediately, making available, through ads in weekly community newspapers, educator-created learning activities that do not require screen time or technology.

“I recognize that you want to know more about the short- and long-term future of education and the many related concerns, such as supporting your children with special needs, accessing technology at home, teacher-student contact time, the future of students who are on track to graduate this June and even co-op placements,” said HPEDSB Director Monteith. “We are working very hard to address all of these scenarios during the most challenging situation many of us have faced, and amid a constantly changing environment.”

The staff and Director Monteith of HPEDSB are committed to maintaining communication, timely updates, and clear and supportive actions under these incredibly challenging times. 

As Director Monteith said in a previous letter home to families and staff, “we need to safeguard the following priorities in this order of importance: 1. our health, and the health of our families and loved ones; 2. our safety and the basic necessities we are fortunate to have, and that others may not have; 3. our responsibility to each other, especially our most vulnerable; and 4. our children’s education and their academic needs.”

English and French-language materials will continue to be added to Learn at Home on a regular basis to provide new and compelling content throughout this period. Recent updates include supplemental STEM learning resources created by third-parties and a parent resource that is focused on reading and writing.

There are now 36 high-quality English courses and 47 French-language courses available for secondary students to review, refresh and extend their learning as part of independent study.

“As an experienced educator in Ontario for the past three decades, I have never seen nor experienced anything quite like what we are going through now in public education,” expressed Monteith. “But perhaps more importantly, and more meaningful to most of you, as a father of two sons, I am sharing the same concerns and conversations that many of you are having. It is a time that we will look back on years from now, and talk about how we managed to work through it, how we became closer as a community, and I hope, how we, as families, became closer, as well.”

To visit the Learn at Home website please visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/learn-at-home?share=3032aa70-62de-11ea-ad72-e97032f287f1

To visit the Ontario Together website please visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/how-your-organization-can-help-fight-coronavirus

To visit the TVO broadcast schedule for educational programming please visit https://www.tvokids.com/school-age/schedule

For real-time homework help for students between Grades 6-10 please visit https://www.tvomathify.com/students

And for French learning support for students Grades 1-12 please visit https://moneureka.ca/