Ontario’s premier is awaiting responses from dozens of public health experts, agencies and school boards before deciding whether to reopen schools for the final month of the academic year.
Doug Ford — who has been accused of abdicating responsibility on the matter — said Friday that he doesn’t want to rely solely on the advice of the province’s top public health official, Dr. David Williams, who believes students should return to the classroom.
“I know very clearly where Dr. Williams stands,” Ford said. “But I want the scientists to weigh in. I want to make sure the teachers’ unions weigh in. I want other educational workers to weigh in. I don’t want to rush this.”
Ford wrote to dozens of doctors, public health authorities, scientists and teacher unions on Thursday, seeking feedback by 5 p.m. Friday.
“This is a big, big decision, folks,” he said. “…I want to make sure that kids are safe. I want to make sure that the teachers are safe, because we have some great, great teachers in this province.”
Schools across the province moved learning online in April amid soaring rates of COVID-19.
Ford said he’s concerned about reopening schools given the presence of more contagious variants of COVID-19, as well as relatively low rates of vaccinated teachers and students.
But critics said the last-minute letter shows Ford is passing the buck on making a decision about schools, particularly given earlier reliance on Williams’ word.
Williams has said all but two public health units feel prepared to reopen schools.
The association that represents school boards publicly responded Friday to Ford’s letter, saying that while the decision should be left up to public health experts, there are a number of measures in place allowing boards to reopen safely.
“We do know that circumstances across the province have changed since mid-April when many schools shuttered,” the letter from the Ontario Public School Board Association reads. “Case numbers continue to decrease while vaccination rates increase, including those for school-aged children.
“If deemed safe, a return to in-person learning would end school on a positive note for a year that saw many interruptions.”