Ford Seeking Feedback On Reopening Schools

Will in-class learning resume in Ontario before summer break?20 hours ago2:02

Premier Doug Ford has written a letter to dozens of medical experts and education sector unions asking them for "input on the possible safe return to schools" in June. Dr.

Harvey Bischof with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said he would support in-person learning in certain areas with lower COVID-19 risk, but he wanted more clarity on any government plan.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board also indicated a few days of preparation would be needed to resume in-person learning.

Pediatric hospitals and doctors have been calling on the government to immediately reopen schools amid a decline in cases, saying in-person learning is crucial to children's well-being.

Ford, however, says in his letter that schools were actually the source of "of more outbreaks than workplaces or any other location" in April. It notes a lack of consensus on how, when and whether schools should reopen.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, expressed a similar sentiment on Tuesday.

However, Dr. Williams admits there has to be confidence among staff, parents, school boards and medical officers of health to reopen.

"What makes all this new information concerning is that ... only 41 per cent of teachers and education workers are vaccinated compared to 62 per cent of the general adult population in Ontario", Ford wrote.

The premier goes on the explain the pros and cons of re-opening and points out that Ontario's science advisors suggest that if in-classroom learning returns, the province could see an increase of 6 to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID cases.

When asked last week about the possibility of reopening schools, Doug Ford said he would consult with his science experts, but feared that an increase in cases would be too much for the province to handle.

"I do hope so, because this is what we're working towards - schools should be one of the first essential services to open and we're seeing the harm to children, to families, to parents". "Keeping children safe is our foremost consideration, which is why as experts in health, public health and education we are seeking your perspective". At the time, Ford said a decision had not been made on schools because medical officials and education workers could not agree on the best way forward.

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.

Kurji said local medical officers of health have the most data and should be granted the "liberty of deciding" whether schools reopen for in-person learning.

While provincial case counts have fallen significantly in recent weeks, experts project a jump of up to 4,000 cases by the end of July if schools open in June. "At the same time we know other jurisdictions are seeing a rapid increase in new, more risky variants that are more contagious, make people and children in particular sicker, are potentially more deadly and are more resistant to vaccines". Other jurisdictions - including Singapore - have recently closed in person learning as a direct result of that variant.

Meanwhile, Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, and Dr. Lawrence Loh, de Villa's counterpart in Peel Region, said they are still waiting to see if COVID-19 case counts drop further in their jurisdictions. Should teachers be fully vaccinated before resuming in class lessons and if not, is one dose sufficient?

The letter poses seven COVID-19 safety-related questions for doctors, scientists, public health authorities and teacher unions.

"I'm glad the decision is not on me".

Del Duca said letting the public health units and school boards make the call is the "most prudent and responsible" approach.



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