School closures are a debated topic not only in Canada but around the world as health issues and hospital bed occupancy rates are weighed in against education and economic challenges for parents. In Toronto, which faces a rising number of coronavirus infections, officials chose to keep schools open. Decisions on school closures vary by province, however.
School Closures by Province
Recently Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced that schools would stay open after winter break in Ontario. After consultations with the Public Health Measures Tables and the chief medical officer, there is a consensus that Ontario has low levels of infection and good safety protocols which guarantee the safety of students at school.
In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault said that they were looking into the possibility of school closures last week. A series of measures have been recently enforced to curb transmission, including non-essential businesses, offices, and school closures until January 11. Hardware stores, financial institutions, pet stores, pharmacies, and grocery stores would remain open. As of December 25, manicurists, spas, and hair salons will have to close. Elementary schools will also stay closed, and only daycare centres will remain open.
Premier Brian Pallister announced that the government might extend winter break in Manitoba. However, the measures would remain unchanged for schools, with blended learning for kindergarten to grade 12.
In November, education minister Rob Fleming expressed hopes that schools would remain open unless the number of Covid-19 cases surges. The focus must be on strengthening safety protocols to keep schools open and avoid developmental problems. In his view, schools are a safe place despite rising infection rates in regions under Vancouver Coastal Health and the Fraser Health Authority. Other measures have been enforced, however, to curb infection rates, including bans on travel, workplaces, group fitness, and gatherings. An extended winter break has also been discussed, along with mandatory masks. At the same time, Fleming highlighted the fact that in Fraser Health, school closures have been mandated for only 4 out of 643 schools, either because of teacher shortage or rising infections. This means that transmission rates are quite low.
Due to rising transmission rates in November, Alberta announced school closures for students in high and junior high school, along with a ban on indoor gatherings and other restrictions. Premier Jason Kenney stressed on the fact that Alberta has one of the highest transmission rates in Canada. In-person classes for students in grades 7 to 12 shut down until the end of 2020, with schools reopening on January 11.
Nunavut ordered school closures in November during a two-week lockdown. Due to growing transmission rates, the government announced that all non-essential businesses, personal services, government offices, fitness centres, libraries, and schools would close. Health centres are only open for emergencies. In December, Arviat is the only community reporting active cases and thus remains under a full lockdown. Travel restrictions have been enforced, and businesses and schools remain closed. All persons leaving the territory are asked to self-isolate in southern Canada before returning to Nunavut.
Schools will remain closed in Nova Scotia until January 11 to curb the spread of Covid-19. Premier Stephen McNeil expressed concerns over family gatherings during the Christmas season. Keeping schools closed until January 11 can help prevent a surge in transmission rates. Education Minister Zach Churchill explained that extending the winter break could help prevent school closures at the beginning of 2020. However, if deemed necessary due to rising rates of transmission, the winter break could be further extended.