The Ford government should not close schools until it further clamps down on capacity limits and urges more people to work from home, says the scientific director of the province’s COVID-19 science table.
As parents continue to wait to find out whether schools will reopen as planned next week — and if they will be left scrambling to find last-minute care for their kids — Dr. Peter Jüni said “right now where we are, with the measures we have in place, schools are not the next lever to control the pandemic. This is very clear.”
The province is expected to announce its plans on Thursday, and has been urged to provide upgraded masks for staff given the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Given several other provinces have already slightly delayed the start-up of classes in January, insiders predict Ontario will also do so by at least a couple of days, but say no plans have been finalized as yet.
B.C. was the latest province to announce that while students with special needs and children of essential workers will return next week, and the rest in phases, with full enrolment by Jan. 10. The government said Wednesday that its goal is to keep kids in class, in person, through to June.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore have also said their priority is to keep schools open.
“We know how critical in-person learning is, which is why we have followed the advice of the chief medical officer of health and invested in safer schools, with improved ventilation in every school in this province,” said Caitlin Clark, Lecce’s director of media relations, noting the province has provided 70,000 HEPA air filter units to schools and that youth vaccination rates are high.
“With the Omicron variant upon us, we are taking nothing for granted as we work with the chief medical officer of health on the way forward to protect in-person learning and keep all students, families, and staff as safe as possible.”
Since the pandemic began, Ontario has closed schools and moved kids online for at least 26 weeks — more than any other province.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told the Star that parents are on tenterhooks waiting for news and “unfortunately, this is the way they do things — they wait until the very last minute and it’s disrespectful to parents and families and education workers, and everybody who needs to have time to plan for these kinds of things.”
Because Ontario’s case counts are at record high levels, and given families socialized over the holidays potentially leading to more infections, Dr. Anna Banerji believes that keeping kids learning at home for just a week or two might be the answer “because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to open schools up and then close them down again.”
The Most Powerful Sale & Affiliate Platform Available!
There's no credit card required! No fees ever.Create Your Free Account Now!
Jüni noted that school closings have been difficult for students’ mental health and well-being, and “to again consider schools not reopen before we impose proper capacity limits of 25 per cent” in retail and restaurants, and “decrease capacity dramatically in sports arenas — all of that would need to come first. We need to be aware of what we are doing (that closing) schools is associated with disproportionate harm, and will result in even more inequities.”
A letter signed by more than 500 Ontario doctors was sent to Premier Doug Ford, Lecce and Moore saying “numerous jurisdictions around the globe have made a commitment to keeping schools open, regardless of case counts, and we need to do the same.”
They note that while there have been COVID cases in schools, “there has been little to no COVID-19 transmission occurring in the school setting” and children appear to contract milder cases.
“There will be a large number of children who will be infected — that’s just part of this Omicron wave,” Jüni also said. “We can’t change that. Most of that will be community transmission, and household. We can’t tell how much schools will contribute.”
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said it hopes for news from the government sooner rather than later.
“It’s not just for school boards — it will take us a day or two to flip over to online learning — but I also think of families with young children who perhaps have gone back to the office because kids are in school. What’s going to happen Monday if there’s no school?” said president Cathy Abraham, who also wants N95 masks for all staff.
On Wednesday, Amy McQuaid-England hosted a #MomsAreNotOkay social media discussion and heard from many parents who say they can’t find care or can’t afford to stay home from work every time their child has a symptom.
The mother of two, a former Oshawa city councillor, said “the Ford government continually leaves us to the last minute, as if we can just pull child care out of nowhere.”
Parents, she added, “desperately want schools to be open, but they want schools to be safe.”
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe