Despite Northern Ontario remaining under lockdown until January 23 at the earliest, northwestern Ontario students are expected to return to their classrooms tomorrow.
Kenora Rainy-River MPP Greg Rickford explains Ontario’s decision to extend the lockdown but not put off in-person learning, like in Southern Ontario where students won’t be returning until January 25 at the earliest.
“The single-biggest difference between the lockdown in Northern Ontario and Southern Ontario is precisely that northwestern Ontario students will return to school on January 11,” said Rickford.
“This was probably the most difficult part of the decision, but in the end, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health understands that Northern Ontario has more challenges like broadband capacity, the availability of devices on a household-to-household basis, and the fact that in Northern Ontario, there were very few cases in our school system.”
“That’s a credit to our teachers and administrators, and I thank them for that. And that there was no spread from the schools. So we saw a slightly different take on it as Northerners, and the Chief Medical Officer heard our concerns loud and clear. Kids will go back to school on Monday as we originally intended to do so.”
Some regional school boards are opting for virtual learning until January 15 at the earliest, including Gaagagekiizhik Elementary and Bimose High School in Kenora.
But students with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and Kenora Catholic District School Board are expecting in class on January 11, confirmed by both school boards Thursday evening.
Kenora Catholic and the KPDSB both say they’re working with health partners and leadership to prepare staff and students for a safe return to school, and everyone is asked to continue following the established COVID-19 safety protocols.
The KPDSB adds that any students who have travelled outside of the province or country should not attend any school properties for 14 days upon their return, as well as students who may have travelled to regions in Southern Ontario.
As of the time of writing, the Northwestern Health Unit is reporting 36 active cases in their catchment area, including 22 in Kenora and 14 in Rainy River. Ontario reported a record-high 4,200 new cases earlier today.
The Ministry of Education says they will continue to act on the best advice of medical and health experts to ensure that students in Northern Ontario are able to return to school safely and, when safe to do so, students in Southern Ontario as well.
In order to continue to support remote learning, the ministry has recommended that a portion of the second half of federal funding, an additional $80 million investment, will be provided for additional technological devices, such as laptops and tablets, to support school boards in procuring about 160,000 additional devices province-wide.