TORONTO — Ontario schools will stay closed for the rest of the school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday that returning children to the classroom right now isn’t worth the risk.

Ford said the safety of children is his top priority and that he arrived at the decision after consulting with the province’s public health officials.

The premier said at-home learning will continue throughout the spring and summer and the government will announce a plan for reopening schools in September before the end of June.

“One thing I will never do is take unnecessary risks when it comes to our children,” Ford said. “That’s why after careful consideration, after consulting with health experts, it is clear that we cannot open schools at this time. I’m just not going to risk it.”

Schools in Ontario have been closed since March 13 when the government moved to shutdown the province to address the spread of COVID-19.

Since then, the province has launched an online learning portal to help students keep up with their studies at home and promised that high school students that had been scheduled to graduate this spring will still do so.

Ford said Ontario is working hard to ensure that child care centres can reopen once the province gets to its second stage of reopening, but that decision will be left to local public health units.

Overnight camps will also not go ahead this summer, but as long as trends keep improving, day camps will be able to open, with strict public health measures in place.

Ford acknowledged the decisions are difficult and will have an impact on families, but also said students will receive report cards this year.

“At the same time, we have a plan to ensure that our children’s education can continue outside of the classroom,” Ford said. 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he will announce a plan for reopening schools in September before the end of June.

“As we look forward to September, I want parents to know we will be introducing new protocols, new standards to ensure students can return to class safely,” he said.

Lecce said the province will seek the advice of Ontario’s chief medical officer of health to determine how many students should be in a class and what appropriate spacing should be for this fall.

“We want to see kids return in September but we want to do that once we have a program in place and for families out there, you will know the details, you will know the plan,” he said.

The president of the association that represents Ontario’s school boards said she appreciates that the government is taking a “measured and cautious approach” to the return to in-class instruction.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said it will work with the province to reopen schools in the fall.

“In all likelihood, the school experience will be different from what we are used to, and I know that school board staff will endeavour to make the return as safe and positive as possible,” Cathy Abraham said in a statement. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 19, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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