Toronto Public Health will advise school boards to adopt ‘gradual introduction’ of extracurriculars, says the city’s chief physician

Dr. Eileen de Villa, second left, health worker for Toronto City, sits with Dr. Andy Smith, Left, President and CEO of Sunnybrook Health Sciences as they attend a press conference in Toronto on January 25, 2020.Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Toronto’s chief physician says public health would recommend the city’s school boards implement a “gradual introduction” to sports, clubs and other recreational activities as early as this month.

Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s health worker, said in an interview Saturday that safe return to personal learning was a priority. She also acknowledged that it was important for students to attend extra classes at the school, but felt that a more cautious approach was “reasonable.” She said Toronto Public Health will work with school boards to see what is possible.

“We would recommend a gradual introduction. So it’s not necessarily, ‘Look, you’ll get nothing in September.’ That’s what’s for sure [and] what are the schools ready to do, ”said Dr. of Villa.

Toronto Public Health asked school boards Wednesday to suspend extracurricular activities, including sports and personal clubs, in September. The decision came on the eve of a return to school for thousands in the city and created furore among students and educators.

Toronto high school students shut out of sports, clubs in September: ‘I feel lost’

High school students – more than any other class in the public education system – have seen some of the most dramatic changes in their schooling in response to the pandemic. Now, even though they are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and most provinces have said extra courses need to be resumed, the more transferable Delta variant is threatening to disrupt a third school year.

On Saturday, Dr. de Villa that teenagers “have done the right thing by being vaccinated and I want to thank them for doing the best they could to protect themselves and others around them. And we look forward to working with school boards for to see them back on the field or in the leisure activity that they love to do, as soon as possible. ”

She added: “I do not see it as a break. I think of it as a gradual introduction of activities.”

Dr. de Villa said her team was concerned about how schools handle the mix of different classrooms when students play sports or attend clubs. She said that for activities that take place outside of school, it is clear who is part of a year group. In schools, however, it is “a little more complicated,” she said, and if students interact with peers outside of their grades, the greater the likelihood of infection.

“We know there will be cases. We try to support our school board partners and offer them recommendations so that when these cases occur, even with mixed cohort activities, it is clear who was in contact, who was exposed, [and] which can be identified very, very quickly… so that follow-up can take place in as smooth a way as possible under the circumstances we are in, ”she said.

Several sports typically start in the fall, including cross-country skiing and field hockey, both of which take place outdoors. It is unclear whether outdoor sports will be prioritized.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has said that sports and clubs should be restored because they play a vital role in students’ physical and mental well-being. The province’s scientific advisory table recommended a return to extra courses, but also warned that local public health officials could implement temporary measures and restrictions depending on how much virus is circulating in the community.

Neighboring boards, including Peel and York, are continuing with extra courses.

Dr. de Villa declined to talk about the rationale for other jurisdictions in resuming clubs and sports. She said Toronto has a large number of students, including the largest school board in the country. “These schools,” she said, “are operating in the midst of a pandemic after a number of months without personal learning, and we are dealing with Delta.”

In the days after recommending a break from leisure activities, Dr. de Villa that public health heard from parents and students who were sad that they were being denied a more normal school year, but others wanted personal learning to be a priority.

“We are committed to actually seeing the reintroduction of these activities, albeit in a cautious approach,” she said. “But we recognize that there is value to them, beyond the instructional learning that happens in class.”

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