Should Ontario cancel March break amid the pandemic? Opinion is split

Four more regions to open in-school learning Feb. 1

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With most regions of Ontario running or preparing to run in-school learning, bar the hot spots in and around Toronto, the idea of a normal school-year schedule is returning. That means that March Break is just six weeks away, and tensions are growing over whether to cancel it this year.

The medical officer of health for Eastern Ontario, Dr. Paul Roumiliotis, is adding his voice to those who believe it should be. He wants children to stay home rather than going out into their communities and potentially spreading or catching the virus, as they likely would were they given a pass on learning for the week.

Just as four more health regions have approved in-class learning, Roumiliotis told CTV Ottawa that schools can be effective at controlling spread, noting that after the Christmas break, “the numbers really went up four fold in terms of positivity for the age group between 11 and 13.”

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced today that Ottawa, Eastern Ontario, Southwestern and Middlesex-London schools will open on Feb. 1 for elementary and high schools, while those in southern Ontario, including Toronto, Peel and Windsor, would remain online until at least Feb. 10. Before- and after-care will resume as well. He did not address the issue of March Break.

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If there is a break, most say, the kids must stay home and not mix with others. That is what bolsters Roumeliotis’ argument about cancelling the annual break. If kids have to stay indoors during that week, they’d be better off in class. “I think if kids stay in school (the spread is) not going to be a problem,” he told CTV.

A study done by Children’s Mental Health Ontario found that in relation to the pandemic, 60 per cent of youth reported feeling a combination of worried, sad and angry, upset over the inability to see their friends and uncertain about the future. The CMHO also found that 59 per cent of parents noted behavioural changes in their child ranging from outbursts or extreme irritability to drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality as well as altered sleeping patterns.

Exhausted and frustrated parents want — and need — a break, says the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. This year’s week off is set for March 15 to 19. OSSTF president Harvey Bischof is still looking for the province to implement further safety measures and reduce class sizes before he feels comfortable with having students physically in schools. “We know the best place for students is in a face-to-face classroom,” he said in a statement. “However, we also know we all have to do our part to prioritize the safety of our communities.”

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A tobogganer slides down the hill at Riverdale Park East in Toronto.
A tobogganer slides down the hill at Riverdale Park East in Toronto.

And there’s another issue related to forgoing March Break: The cancellation of day camps and other programming. While Ottawa mother Danielle Veal wants a break for herself and her seven- and four-year-old boys, she doesn’t see the sense in the time off. “It’s not that I think people don’t deserve a break, (but) there’s nowhere to go.”

Spring break was extended by two weeks last year, giving many people the idea to escape winter. Many of those travellers brought the virus back to Canada. “Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if the same thing that happened last year happened again this year,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told CP24 this week, without taking a position on March Break school or camp closures. But he added that “people should plan ahead for a different March Break.”

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