WINDSOR, ONT. -- Windsor-Essex students won’t be returning to in-person learning in June, according to announcement from the province.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, made the announcement on Wednesday. Ford also said Step One of reopening of the economy might start before June 14.

“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” said Ford. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”

Recent modelling by the Science Advisory Table revealed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning, the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases.

Students in Windsor-Essex and across Ontario are being forced to continue at-home learning for the rest of the academic year.

The decision to keep schools closed goes against the advice from the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and local medical officers of health, like Windsor-Essex’s Dr. Wajid Ahmed, who has openly supported the return to in-class learning.

“We know that with our high vaccination rate, with our teachers vaccinated some time ago and now our students now are getting the vaccine. Our active case counts are daily case rates are going down as well, I feel like we are in a much better place to return to in-person learning,” says Ahmed.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit reported 18 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Active cases dropped to 197.

Ahmed added that the mental well-being of students is being impacted.

“I was hoping they’d go back for the last three weeks to give them some socialization. He does talk about going back and see the kids and they discuss when they’re online at school,” says Janice who has been helping her grandson with virtual learning.

It’s not the way Spring or her 10-year-old daughter wanted to end the school year.

“My child is devastated she can’t go back to school,” Spring told CTV News She’s a very social kid and likes to be around her friends.”

The province says Ontario’s plan supports the largest investment in mental health and the largest summer learning program in Ontario history, with supports available to students through the summer and when they return to in-person learning in September.

CTV News Toronto reports that the decision on whether to leave Ontario classrooms closed for the remainder of the school year could be partly based on public opinion polling, commissioned by the Progressive Conservative government, which pitted schools against the economy.

The internal polling conducted by Campaign Research, obtained by CTV News Toronto, shows a majority of Ontario residents do not want in-person learning to resume if it would jeopardize the economic reopening plan.

“I’m happy to see that the economy is going to start to reopen that we’re going to be able to get out and buy things again and see people and that’s more important,” Windsor-Essex parent Pat Ryan says. “I think school opening in September is probably a way better idea.”

Ford said Wednesday he's "cautiously optimistic" that the province might be able to enter Step 1 before June 14.


Ford also said that schools can work on planning outdoor graduation ceremonies.

"I want schools to host in-person, outdoor graduation events and other opportunities for you to meet with your friends and reconnect outside before the end of the year.”

The ceremonies would be for all grades this summer, not just grads, said Ford.

Ontario students have been online learning since after spring break in mid-April.

Even though schools in Ontario closed for in-person learning, emergency child care (ECC) will continue until the end of June. Before and after school programs will remain closed and will continue to not charge parent fees, which is prohibited during the remote learning period.

Licensed child care centres may resume serving school-aged children for full-days in programming over the summer months, in accordance with the ministry’s health and safety guidance. Those before and after school programs that operate as a camp over the summer will be permitted to do so, and will follow protocols.

With files from CTV Windsor's Angelo Aversa and