Ontarians wait on tenterhooks for school reopening news as experts weigh in

Darnell Taylor
May 29, 2021

"We know the mental health, academic and other challenges some students have faced with at-home learning, particularly those from low-income, racialized and high needs neighbourhoods", the letter said. During a news conference Wednesday, Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, wouldn't say the city's schools are ready to reopen.

Dr. Etches said her colleagues across the province are looking at a "collective response" to Premier Ford's letter, "that puts forward our rationale to support children's health by having schools open". "Keeping children safe is our foremost consideration, which is why as experts in health, public health and education we are seeking your perspective".

Toronto's Medical Officer of Health responded to Premier Ford's letter on the potential reopening of schools saying Toronto Public Health (TPH) supports reopening in-person learning before other restrictions are lifted.

In his letter, Ford asks "whom it may concern" seven questions about reopening schools.

Ford goes on to cite a recent study out of the United Kingdom that showed a single dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca is only 33% effective against the B.1.617 variant first identified in India.

It should be noted that while Ford has so far refused to commit to reopening schools a number of top children's hospitals, including SickKids, have repeatedly advocated for a return to the classroom.

He also suggested that only 41 per cent of Ontario teachers and education workers have received a COVID-19 vaccine compared to 62 per cent of the general population, something he calls "concerning".

The Ontario Parent Action Network calculates Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are cutting $481 per student from the next year's budget, or $14,000 per classroom.

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Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region's medical officer of health, said in a statement to CP24 that he would support the return to in-person learning in his jurisdiction, given the improving trends and capacity and strong safety protocols that reduce risk in schools.

Ontario has reached a key milestone in the fight against COVID-19. "The decision to return to in-person learning, and when, will be made by the Ministry of Education in consultation with the Ministry of Health".

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has said that reopening schools for the month of June would likely result in a spike in cases of six to 11 per cent, which it said could be "manageable".

De Villa acknowledges the decision whether or not to reopen schools for in-person learning is a hard one, and she says TPH will be ready to support the direction the province chooses to take regarding the matter.

Other countries are warning mutations including the B.1.617 variant are putting children at much greater risk and are shutting schools down.

Following the announcement of the plan Ontarians, including health experts, took to social media to share their thoughts on this proposed "second dose summer".

Last week, the province released a three-phase reopening plan for the province, however schools were not part of the framework. Should teachers be fully vaccinated before resuming in class lessons and if not, is one dose sufficient? Should indoor school instruction resume before then?

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