Simcoe Muskoka students returning to in-person learning on Feb. 8
BARRIE, ONT. -- The Ontario government announced students across Simcoe Muskoka would return to in-person learning on Monday.
The decision follows recommendations by Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams.
"We're reopening because we believe it is safe," Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Wednesday.
Before and after school programs will also resume Monday. The emergency child care service for essential workers is over as of Friday.
All students across Ontario began online learning at the start of the year as part of the province-wide lockdown.
Starting on Jan. 11, the government took a staggered approach to reopen physical classrooms, starting first with northern Ontario and rural schools where case rates are lower.
The province delayed the remaining southern Ontario regions, including Simcoe Muskoka.
Parents of students in York Region, Toronto, and Peel Region learned their children would return to school on Feb. 16, with before and after school programs starting up at that time.
Officials haven't said if March Break would be impacted, only saying that the ministry would provide parents with "sufficient notice" on any decisions in that regard.
Earlier this week, Lecce said additional federal funding would be put towards changes for back to school, including enhanced screening, asymptomatic testing and students from Grades 1 and up would be required to wear masks if returning to in-person learning.
"Reducing the transmission of COVID-19 is fundamental to keeping our communities and schools safe," Dr. Williams said.
"Our collective efforts, like strictly adhering to all public health measures, in addition to the enhanced safety measures in schools, will help keep communities healthy and students learning alongside their peers in their classrooms," he continued.
Despite schools getting the green light to reopen, the province remains in a state of emergency. The province-wide lockdown was issued on Dec. 26 and is scheduled to expire on Feb. 11, if it's not extended.
Dr. Williams had previously noted that daily provincial COVID-19 cases would need to consistently fall under 1,000 before the tightened measures would ease.
Lecce said the province would continue to monitor COVID-19 trends and take further action if necessary. "If things change in the wrong direction, we will not hesitate to follow the advice of the chief medical officer of health," he said.
With files from The Canadian Press