Ford Seeking Feedback On Reopening Schools

Grant Boone
May 29, 2021

Premier Doug Ford has written a letter to doctors, healthcare organizations, and education experts asking for their opinions on whether it's safe to reopen Ontario's schools.

But Ford said he doesn't want to rely exclusively on the advice of the province's top public health official, Dr. David Williams, who believes students should return to the classroom.

Dr. Eileen De Villa, Loh's counterpart in Toronto, said COVID-19 cases are still "relatively high" in her city but shared optimism that the situation could improve. In it, they expressed their support for the reopening of schools.

She said infection rates in schools "broadly mirror" the infection rates in the general population and school-aged children have suffered due to not being in the classroom.

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

In the letter, Ford talks about mental health, academic and other challenges some students have faced with at home learning.

The increase follows daily counts of 1,039 on Tuesday and 1,095 on Wednesday.

Schools have been closed since early April, but the latest modelling from the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table suggests students could go back to class as early as June 2 and trigger a 6% to 11% increase in cases. "There is consensus in some quarters on how, when, and whether schools should reopen, and diverse and conflicting views in others", Ford wrote.

Ford, however, says in his letter that schools were actually the source of "of more outbreaks than workplaces or any other location" in April. He also says current data shows only 41 per cent of Ontario teachers have been vaccinated.

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Though the public is thrilled with the news and are now anticipating a somewhat normal summer, many experts and residents alike are wondering why the government is still waiting more than two weeks to implement the first phase given that we've already reached the vaccination threshold to do so.

Ford has said he doesn't want to rely exclusively on the advice of the province's top public health official, Dr. David Williams, who believes students should return to the classroom.

Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for Peel Region, said key COVID-19 indicators support the resumption of in-person learning.

"Individual public health units need to weigh in on the decision of whether or not they feel that their public health unit can safely accommodate and manage and prevent the cases that may arise with school reopening", he said in an interview Friday.

"If deemed safe, a return to in-person learning would end school on a positive note for a year that saw many interruptions".

"The decision whether or not to re-open schools for in-person learning is a complex one".

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. Should teachers be fully vaccinated before resuming in class lessons and if not, is one dose sufficient?

"Doug Ford needs to stop treating kids' education as an afterthought, and spend what it takes to make schools safe, including smaller class sizes and better ventilation", said Stiles.

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