“We want them to be protected,” he said. “By doing what you need to do every time, all the time… you will be safe. It’s a virus. It is a spread of droplets. It does not happen by magic.
His comments follow the release on Wednesday of the province’s COVID-19 guidelines on how to prevent and manage outbreaks in schools, which critics say did not address concerns about class sizes at the elementary level.
Williams said problems arise when people become “casual” about following public health rules at work or in their personal lives.
“We don’t want anyone to be infected in schools,” he said. “But we are perfectly preparing to seek it out, seek it out, find it, test it, affirm it and rule it out as quickly as possible.”
The new guidelines emphasize prevention, with parents urged to screen their children daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and keep them at home when appropriate.
Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that the new guidelines called on parents to do their part to keep the virus out of schools.
“I think it starts at home, the responsibility,” he says. “If your child is showing symptoms, please see your local doctor… or have your child tested.”
Teachers and principals will be urged to isolate any child who develops symptoms in school and send the child home when a parent can pick him up.
Public health officials will have the discretion to send entire cohorts of students home after school, or possibly close schools, if they feel that’s the best way to deal with an outbreak.
School boards, teachers’ unions and some parents have called for smaller class sizes to encourage physical distancing at the elementary level. They want boards to hire more teachers and rent additional space to create new classrooms.
The new guidelines do not reduce or cap class sizes.
Charles Pascal, a professor at the University of Toronto, who previously served as Ontario’s deputy minister of education, said new government guidelines miss the mark and cause more stress for students, parents and teachers.
He said the Progressive Conservative government could better use the hundreds of millions of dollars the province is receiving from Ottawa.
“With the new money from the federal government, they refuse to spend it all on the safest choice: smaller elementary classrooms that require a lot more teachers and a more ventilated space,” he said.
The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said the guidelines are vague and do not clearly state responsibilities, which means some tasks could be left out.
“I think this is a sign of the total mismanagement of the Ministry of Education, by the minister, they are jostling each other,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have time to do it right.
The president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said it was essential to put in place precautions to make schools safe.
“The Ford government says it will spare no expense to keep schools safe, but Ontarians have yet to see it,” Liz Stuart said in a statement. “We need them to keep their word by implementing the same standards for physical distancing, hand hygiene and ventilation that are expected elsewhere in the province.
The two unions said they were not consulted by the government when creating the new guidelines.
Meanwhile, Canada’s largest school board has said elementary students will be able to choose whether or not to attend in-person classes at three times during the school year – October 13, November 23 and February 16, 2021 .
The Toronto District School Board said the deadline for requesting a move will be set about two weeks before each date.
The board says it’s not possible to change immediately due to the impact it would have on staffing, physical distance and space allocation.
Ontario reported 118 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and one new coronavirus-related death.