National

Elementary, secondary schools in Windsor-Essex closing Monday amid rising COVID-19 cases

Dec 11, 2020

Windsor (Canada) December 11: All elementary and secondary schools in Windsor, Ont., and surrounding Essex County will close Monday due to the "rapid rise in COVID-19 cases," leaving some officials scrambling to get students online.
All schools in the region will transition to online learning, under an order from Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) said in a statement Thursday. That means 114 schools, between the Catholic and public school boards, will close and 56,200 children will learn from home over the next week.
The order will be in place until Dec. 18 - when students go on holiday break - but could be extended, according to the statement.
"The health and safety of students and staff remains a priority for the WECHU. This action is being taken in an effort to keep our community safe and prevent further spread of COVID-19," it reads.
Schools will be closed to all students and in-person learning, including before- and after-school programs. They will remain open to educators and staff, and full-time day-cares.
Case numbers have been rising in both schools and the community in general. The region reported more than 100 new cases for the second day in a row on Thursday. There are currently outbreaks at two schools: Corpus Christi Catholic Middle School's CPA Campus and General Brock Public School.
As of Thursday, Windsor-Essex has 610 active cases and 25 outbreaks across several sectors.
Earlier this week, Ahmed said the region qualifies for the grey or "lockdown" level of restrictions in the province's colour-coded system of COVID-19 public health measures. Currently, the region is in the second-strictest red or "control" level.
'Not anticipated'
The closures were "not anticipated necessarily, but understood," according to the director of education at the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.
Terry Lyons told CBC News the board did not receive notice ahead of time, and was "surprised" by the order.
"We've been scrambling quite a bit today," he said. "They talked about how we're going to communicate this out, what sort of resources we need to make this happen and what we can do to get our system ready to make sure that we have everything possible for our students and community as we move forward into this next stage."
The board worries about being able to provide the necessary technology to all students, he added.
There are currently 17 active cases across seven schools in the board.
The English-language public school board was also "somewhat surprised" according to spokesperson Scott Scantlebury.
"We were very prepared. We had a contingency plan in place and quite quickly once we learned the announcement was going to be made, we got into our contingency plan and started to work," Scantlebury told CBC News.
The Greater Essex County District School Board had a total of 97 COVID-19 cases in its system as of Thursday. It also saw the province's largest school outbreak at Frank W. Begley Elementary School in Windsor last month, with 40 students and nine infected.
Begley had just reopened on Wednesday.
In a statement the board said its schools are "safe places to learn."
"The health unit has been clear that this action is to reduce the spread of COVID-19 cases occurring in the community," it said.
Learning for elementary and secondary public students will continue online, the board said. Secondary students in the "adapted" model will shift to online 150-minute learning blocks, separated by a one-hour break each day.
There are also two French-language school boards in the region.
Melody Sura has two school-aged children who went back to in-person learning in November at Queen Victoria Public School in Windsor. Now they'll be back at home for the next three weeks.
"I think it's probably necessary, like, if you've seen the cases over the last few weeks, it just keeps going up," Sura said. But she said it won't be easy to go to online learning.
Jordan Fihn, also a parent of two at Queen Victoria, made a similar statement.
"I prefer them to go to school its hard as a parent to try to teach your kids and go to work and do all that stuff," he said.
Source: CBC News