March break moved to April 12-16, province announces

Students and teachers will get a break this spring — but not in March.

This year, March Break will be delayed for almost month because of the pandemic, and is now set for April 12 to 16, the province said Thursday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement putting off the traditional week off, originally scheduled March 15 to 19, despite the objections of teacher unions and school boards, which had urged no changes be made to school schedules to give stressed-out staff and students a break.

But Lecce has said he would defer to the advice of public health officials, who are concerned about gatherings and travel as the province continues to battle COVID-19 as new, more contagious variants are already spreading in the community.

The move is “an important way that schools can help to limit community transmission,” Lecce said, which saw a rise over the winter holiday break.

Regulations under the Education Act specify a 194-day school year, and union insiders have told the Star the government does have the power to make such a change, as long as teachers aren’t working any additional days.

One insider said some collective agreements with local boards may specifically mention a March Break, and those would need to be amended.

Dr. Anna Banerji, a professor at the University of Toronto, has previously told the Star she was “of two minds” on March Break.

“I think the advantages of having it are that it normalizes lives and gives kids a chance to be off and relax … it’s hitting the reset button,” said Banerji, of U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

But kids could get together, likely without masks and not physically distanced. And “if there’s time off, are families going to be travelling” outside the city? — and potentially moving from a high-COVID area to a lower-risk one — “because it’s a time when people travel. That’s one of my concerns.”

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, has said “the regularly scheduled March break would provide a much-needed time to rest and recharge, and would help ensure that our staff, students and school communities are best positioned to face the remainder of the school (year) with a renewed focus.”

However, she added, “decisions such as these should be made by public health experts. These decisions must be made with the goal of minimizing the risk of exacerbating the pandemic, however, it is essential to also consider the impacts to student and staff mental health and well-being.”

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Robin Kay, dean of education at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, has said this year has brought “unparalleled stress for teachers. It doesn’t seem like it would be a wise idea” from their perspective to keep going without a break.

More to come

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