Even when it’s too cold to run the school buses, school crossing guards are still on the job. February 2019's bitter cold saw Violet Steingart on duty as usual at A. K. Wigg. A year ago September, she marked her 20th year on the job, something she initially thought she would do just for a few months. “It’s such a great job, the kids make me laugh every day. I have great support from the parents. Only complaint is the speed of some cars.” DAVE BURKET

Students returning to in-person learning next Monday

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the dates for the return of in-person learning in all remaining Ontario public health units (PHUs). Elementary and secondary schools in the Niagara Region Public Health unit will return to in-person learning on Monday, February 8.

According to a provincial statement released Wednesday afternoon, the government’s decision was based on the advice of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, the unanimous recommendation of the Council of Medical Officers of Health, and with the support of local Medical Officers of Health.

The statement added that in the health units that are permitted to return to in-person learning on February 8, before- and after-school childcare programs are also permitted to resume on that day, making Friday, February 5 the last day for emergency child care.

“Following the best medical advice, with the clear support of both Ontario’s and the local Medical Officers of Health, we are reopening schools across the province knowing that we have taken additional steps and made additional investments to better protect our students and staff,” said Lecce in the statement. “Nothing is more important than returning kids to school safely because it is crucial for their development, mental health, and future success.”

We know that parents and students alike will be happy to return to safe and secure learning environment

“I am very pleased that students in both public and independent schools across Niagara will be able to return safely to in-person class on February 8th,” said Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff. “We know that parents and students alike will be happy to return to safe and secure learning environment. This important step is being taken on the advice of our Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, and is based in his confidence in the safety of Ontario schools.”

To support the return of in-person learning, Ontario has introduced new measures to protect students and staff against COVID-19 in the classroom. These measures include:

Provincewide access, in consultation with the local PHU, to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff
Mandatory masking requirements for students in Grades 1-3, and masking requirements for Grades 1-12 outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained
Providing 3.5 million cloth masks to schools as backup supply for Grade 1-12 students
Enhanced screening for secondary students and staff
Guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school
Temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.

Wednesday’s statement also asserted that to promote health and safety for students and staff, Ontario recently made an additional $381 million in funding available for schools. Provided under the federal Safe Return to Class Fund, this funding will be used to improve air quality and ventilation in schools, support online learning, promote student mental health and hire additional staff.

Local health units continue to reserve the authority to close schools to in-person learning based on local circumstances.