Ontario’s school reopening announcement turns into a gong show

While the education minister blinded us with arithmetic, it was Ontario's chief medical officer of health who made a real mess of the proceedings

Just when it looked like the Ford government’s response to Omicron couldn’t get any worse, it got worse.

Education minister Stephen Lecce and Ontario chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore held court at Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon to confirm news that had been leaked on Monday – that kids would be returning to school for in-person learning on January 17. 

The press conference called to announce new “layers of protection” for the return to in-person learning, however, turned out to be a gong show, with both Lecce and Moore having to later clarify a number of bombshells inadvertently (or not) dropped in the middle of the proceedings. It’s a wonder no one from the premier’s office showed up with a giant hook to yank Lecce and Moore from the stage of the Queen’s Park media studio. 

When all was said and done, the details offered on how the province plans to protect students, teachers and staff only served to provide more unsettling evidence that the government is flying by the seat of its pants on Omicron. 

Lecce tried to sound empathetic, which is a departure from previous pressers where he has delivered the province’s plans with an emotional distance, but given the Ford government’s treatment of school boards, it didn’t come across as genuine.

He rolled out a long list of numbers in support of the government’s decision to send kids back to school, including the 3,000 HEPA filters and personal protective equipment the province has delivered (or will be delivering, it isn’t entirely clear where that’s at in the supply chain) to education workers and staff to ensure the return is “as safe as possible.”

The minister also announced plans for the distribution of more rapid antigen tests (two per student) and a plan to set up in-school clinics to encourage more kids between the ages of 5 and 11 to get vaccinated. Those should be set up by sometime next week. Right now, fewer than 50 per cent in the age group have received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

There was no counter at the bottom of the screen to tally the number of times Lecce was bending or misrepresenting the truth. But the truth is none of the numbers matter. It’s all backfill at this point. 

We’ve been through five waves of the pandemic, and each time we’ve ended up in this scenario – a government unwilling to invest the dollars necessary to avert chaos and making it up as they go. Only, this time it’s a highly transmissible variant that’s the enemy.

But while Lecce spent most of the presser blinding viewers with arithmetic – not to mention, what a great job the Ford government has been doing managing the virus – it was his sidekick Moore who ended up stealing the show, only not in a good way. 

Ontario’s top doctor, who’s turning out not to be the great communicator (or adult in the government backrooms) that pundits had predicted (and hoped) was asked why the province has not made vaccines mandatory for school attendance. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, called the idea of requiring COVID vaccines for children “straightforward” at her press conference Wednesday, noting children are already required to be vaccinated for a range of diseases.

But Moore offered a reply that landed with a thud.

“It’s a new vaccine,” he said. “We want more experience with it before we mandate it.” 

Was Moore casting doubt on the safety and efficacy of vaccines? Indeed, it didn’t take long for Moore’s comments to light the hair of the anti-vax crowd on social media on fire.

Moore’s office would release a statement later to clarify that he supported vaccination and wanted to be “clear” that “the paediatric Pfizer vaccine for children 5 to 11 is safe, effective and provides strong protection.”

On the question of vaccine uptake, however, Moore also said on Wednesday that the province wants “to alleviate the concerns parents may have.” Was he talking about anti-vax parents protesting outside Lecce’s house for the second night running?

Moore, who it was thought would speak truth (and science) to power when he was brought in to replace David Williams, has seemingly buckled under the political pressure to provide cover for the government’s COVID failures. 

The cockamamie business didn’t end there with Moore.

While he characterized the risk of community transmission of the Omicron variant as “high,” he also contended that “schools have not been shown to be a large multiplier of transmission” and that “they reflect community transmission.” 

That hasn’t necessarily been the case with previous waves. But even if schools are not, as Moore suggests, a “large multiplier,” the fact that they reflect community transmission means infection rates in schools will also be high.

Enhanced screening and testing are supposed to blunt the risk of spread. On that front, Moore said that the province was “empowering” parents by providing kids with rapid tests. Except, the province is also doing away with the requirement to report COVID-19 case counts and dismiss classes when there are outbreaks. Parents will only be notified of absenteeism rates and only then when they hit 30 per cent. 

The education minister’s office would also be forced to backtrack on that later, telling CityNews there will be reporting on case counts after all.

None of this inspires confidence, but it does demonstrate the overwhelming view in the corridors of power at Queen’s Park that, despite the havoc Omicron is wreaking on the health-care system, children are not likely to face dire consequences if they contract the variant.

All of which leaves many parents in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to send their children back to school on Monday. 


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16 responses to “Ontario’s school reopening announcement turns into a gong show”

  1. Oh right… Kids are the least likely to become seriously ill from covid.

    If ya’ll are really concerned about children’s health; start screening their lunches rather than their noses.
    Until then it’s all just overblown hypocrisy.

  2. The fact that Moore said he won’t mandate the vaccines for KIDS makes total sense! It is new and the long term effect are unknown, no matter how safe they are we have no way of knowing the future outcomes for our youngest.

  3. It’s not a safe decision the Td sb n health department is making . We’re putting our children in the heart of danger why why why the children you all new what is going on let our children stay home parents need more time with them at home I teach my children they learned more than being in school so far n a lot of them lock of love n attention from parents n the will be safer home what will happen to the teachers I they’re indangering they lives n they families too so for now close the school until a proper decision later

    • What if your a parent who has to go to work???
      And you can’t be home? Ever think about those parents or do you just sit there all day praises yourself for the great work your doing at home daily?

  4. What do you expect when your Education minister looks like a used car salesman. Let’s get rid of Ford and get a real premier who doesn’t cater to antivaxx fanatics!

  5. An overwhelming majority of children get cold symptoms from Covid. If there are children at risk, let their own parents decide what is best. Healthy eating, vitamins, lòts of sleep, and keep them home when they don’t feel well.

  6. Trust the experts until the expert says something you don’t like, huh Enzo? Do you have a medical degree? Who are you to challenge the province’s top doctor?

  7. Not ALL public Ontario schools have had their ventilation systems improved, or had custodians cleaning more! In the rural areas there are students who either don’t have access to tech or access to internet…. When will the minister do something for ALL Ontario students who are having to use online learning?

  8. Ford, Lecce and Moore are completely useless! PPE and Vaccine clinics should have been in place last week… not a “promise” that we’re starting to work on it now (If the Feds don’t hamper us). Put the kids and education staff at high risk for a few days and then close down again… the Doug Ford story!

  9. Why should the governments be catering to the pro-jabbers… Do you think your views are more worthy? Just because persons do not want to get a jab does not automatically make them anti-vaxxers. It makes them sensible and responsible. I agree with the Ontario chief medical officer of health when he stated: It’s a new vaccine,” he said. “We want more experience with it before we mandate it.” And he never should have backed down because he spoke the truth. Our children should be allowed to get back to being kids and not having to deal with being locked down and separated from other children. They should living out their childhood without worry… and parents who do not want to subject their children to a jab should have that choice.

  10. They may be the future, but they’re clearly not a priority. Whether back in schools or learning remotely, governments are showing us how little they truly care about our children. Making social distancing in classrooms possible, better ventilation (3000 new air filters is less than one per entire school, when they should really be in every classroom), ensuring all staff have adequate N95 masks and so on would show actual effort. Meeting recommendations from Sick Kids hospital in the earlier stages of the pandemic would have cost only about a quarter of the pandemic funding they were already sitting on, but they were determined to show us that they just don’t care about kids enough to protect them.


  11. Hey Enzo, good article. It would be great, though, if you could rethink your use of the word “absenteeism”. In case you didn’t know, it means “repeatedly skipping work or school for no good reason,” which is not what students and teachers will be doing by following the protocols to keep themselves and others safe. Lecce and other Ford cronies are using this word regularly and incorrectly either inadvertently because they don’t understand how words work (quite likely) or purposefully to undermine teachers and the public school system (equally as likely). You may not be able to correct them (might be fun to try, though), but you can correct your article. Don’t fall into their language farce-hole.

  12. We’ve had these vaccines for over a year, given to hundreds of millions people, and we’ve had mRNA vaccines for a decade. Vaccines do not stay in your system. So, we do know the long term effects: there aren’t any, unless you count not dying of COVID.

  13. Oh poor parents that will need ti make decisions!! Oh horror!!
    of course it is much better to be denied this horrible dilemma and just be shut at home without any options! And not be allowed back in school for the next five-ten years, until Absolutely Bulletproof Allmighty Supervaccine for Everything is invented.

  14. Hey Enzo, please stop echoing this government’s insidious and incorrect use of the word “absenteeism”. By definition, absenteeism is habitual absence without good reason, it implies deception, laziness and a lack of interest in working.
    Kids staying home when they are sick so they don’t spread COVID is not absenteeism. Teachers and lunchroom supervisors being required to stay home with a fever because they can’t get access to a PCR test is not absenteeism.
    Lecce completely vanishing for three weeks in the middle of his two month winter break after only six weeks of work since his extended summer break? Ford showing up for Question Period less than 30% of the time? These are examples of absenteeism and a blatant disrespect of the people they represent,

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