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All publicly-funded schools in Ontario will remain closed until at least May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced.

Ontario schools were initially closed for two weeks following March Break in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The government then extended the closure through at least May 4, though Premier Doug Ford later said that it was unrealistic to think that children would be able to return to classes by that point.

Speaking at Queen’s Park on Sunday afternoon, Lecce said that the decision to extend the closure through the end of May was based on “expert advice” from public health officials.

He said that “if there is a way to save some of the school year at the back end,” his government would consider it but not at the expense of safety.

“The extension will provide the province more time, sufficient time to review the data and the modelling so that we can make the best decision based on the best medical advice and ensure that ultimately students remain safe and staff remain safe should they return to school at some point his year or at any point beyond,” he said.

While a number of other provinces have announced the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the year, Ontario has so far refused to do the same though it has worked to ramp up its online learning program and has promised that students will receive final grades, regardless of whether schools reopen.

On Sunday, Lecce said that he “appreciates full well” that parents, educators and students al want a “greater degree of certainty” and hopes to provide a “final update” with respect to this school year before May 31.

He said that in the meantime the province will also provide “some greater” context with regards to the benchmarks that need to be hit to reopen schools when it releases its economic recovery plan sometime this week.

“I think currently the advice from the chief medical officer of health is that we are not there today. We need more time we need to see a reduced risk to young people and we have accepted that advice as we always have and given ourselves another month of time,” he said.

All remaining PA days cancelled

Since ordering the closuring the closure of all schools last month, the province has worked to ramp up its online learning program and recently struck a deal with Apple to distribute thousands of iPads to students from low-income families.

Lecce said that at this point there are no plans to extend the school year, as officials are confident that adequate instruction is being delivered through the online learning program.

He did, however, say that all remaining professional activity (PA) days and examination days will be cancelled to maximize instruction time.

The province is also working to introduce a more robust summer learning program to help interested students “mitigate from learning loss,” Lecce said.

As for the eventual resumption of classes, whenever that may be, Lecce said that his government will take an open-mided approach to ensuring safety.

“If students return at some point later this year my commitment is to come back here and communicate to you how I will ensure every parent in this province that we can ensure the safety of your child. If it involves changing how classrooms are structured or designed we will look at that. We have a duty and responsibility to be open to every idea to achieve safety,” he said.

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