Along with easing lockdown restrictions, the provincial government also let students return to in-person learning this week. It marked the end of a long-extended Christmas break of sorts.
It was welcome news for many parents, including Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, a father of five school-age kids. He saw a change in them as soon as they returned to their classrooms Monday.
“I know for my kids they were very, very excited to get back yesterday, and just already even last night just a noticeable difference in how everybody was kind of acting at home – it’s definitely a positive,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I’m in a similar position to a lot of people here where I’ve got five kids – they’ve all been kind of having their school year disrupted. Focusing on getting them back to the routines that they’re used to is something that I’m really pushing for.”
Harris says there were a number of factors which contributed to the decision to bring kids back to class, top of the list includes the go-ahead from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.
“The advice we get from the chief medical officer, our local medical officers around the province in the different public health units, [in addition to] looking at what we’re able to do from a government perspective,” he enumerated of what led to the reopening, noting safety concerns are a priority, whether that is “to put a little bit more money into the system – we’re in a position to be able to do that – looking at different ways that we can have rapid testing within the schools, asymptomatic testing… there’s been more capacity to be able to hire more staff as well as better supports for some of the online learning pieces as well where families of kids that don’t want to be in class are able to have a little bit better support now with the online learning factors. So, I think there was there was just a really good opportunity with the numbers aligning, numbers going down, local medical officers being on board, [and directive from] the chief medical officer. We’ve had Sick Kids and some of the major hospitals saying ‘yes you know things look good we’re able to get back’ plus we’ve been able to now make some of those important investments and have them actually take effect.”
The government has made changes to the way things work in the classroom like mandating masks, as well as investing funds to help school boards ensure they are able to keep up with the changes.
The province recently announced it was making $381 million available to schools across the province. Under the federal Safe Return to Class Fund, schools will be able to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health, and hire additional staff.
The funding is part of a larger $1.6 billion pledged to protect students, school staff, and their families from COVID-19. As of February 1, the Waterloo Region District School Board has received $35,664,455, while the Waterloo District Catholic School Board got $14,094,270.
Moving forward through the rest of the school year, Harris says more information will be coming regarding March Break. Last year, kids broke for the weeklong break and eventually did not return to schools until the fall.
While there are whispers that March Break may be cancelled this year to keep kids in class and learning, Harris says there are many factors to take into consideration prior to that decision.