Return to personal schooling in doubt as Omicron cases rise in Ontario

A few days before students are due to return to the classroom in Ontario, the province’s back-to-school plan is clouded by uncertainty, and critics are calling for more details.

Most schools are scheduled to return on Monday, but with an increase in the case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, a return to personal learning is in doubt.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Doug Ford said ministers would soon meet to make a decision.

“I know the Minister [of health] has been sitting at the table with the Secretary of Education … and we’ll have a message within the next few days, “Ford said.” But we’ll just see how things go and of course talk to that chief physician. , Dr. [Kieran] Moore. “

Waiting for that decision – there are no announcements scheduled for Wednesday from the prime minister or his prime ministers – has some concerns that parents will be left behind to prepare for a transition from personal to virtual education.

“It’s a problem if schools move to online, and it’s a problem we do not know,” said Gabrielle Brankston, a mother of three school-age children who is also a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the University of Guelph. , in an interview. on CBCs Metro tomorrow.

“Besides the fact that my own children do not want this online learning again, I worry about the issues of justice. I worry about the single parent who can not work from home and they have to … arrange childcare and online learning with a lot short warning.”

Brankston said her children of five, 11 and 13 felt uninvolved from online learning when schools closed last year, but she worries about sending her back with such high community transmission.

She said she would feel more comfortable with smaller class sizes, HEPA filtering in each classroom, vaccine mandates for students and teachers, better masks for everyone and free quick tests for every family and education worker who wants them.

Some doctors are calling for open schools

Meanwhile, some doctors are urging the Ontario government to keep schools open.

“There is nothing inherent in the school institution that makes it more dangerous, more risky for children, more risky for teachers or for households,” said Dr. Alanna Golden, a primary care physician in Toronto.

Golden organized an open letter signed by more than 500 doctors from a variety of medical fields, including psychiatry, pediatrics, surgery and others.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, in 2019 there were about 30,492 physicians in Ontario, of which 14,962 practiced family medicine and a further 15,528 specialists.

The letter claims that closures are too harmful to children’s health.

In the letter, doctors advocate a “test to stay” approach where students and teachers can undergo frequent rapid tests to stay in the classroom even if they are close to someone who has COVID-19.

Demands for clarity

Opposition leaders on Wednesday called for more clarity from the Ford government regarding its back-to-school plan.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said it was “ridiculous” that families still did not know if teaching would resume in a few days and that the government should have used the holiday period to make schools safer with plans for regular tests, better masks and improved ventilation.

At a virtual news conference, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said the government has not taken enough measures to make schools safer after closing them for long periods earlier in the pandemic.

He urged Ford to consult with families and experts on the best course of action.

“If that ultimately means we have to postpone the reopening of schools by a few days or a week or two, then I’m comfortable with that,” he said.

“But … it would be a failure of epic proportions for Doug Ford to simply say, ‘We will delay schools by a day or a week or two weeks or a month’ and then do nothing else to make schools better and safer. for our children and our workers. “

Greens party leader Mike Schreiner accused Ford of leaving parents and students “in the dark” about returning to school.

“It’s annoying. We have the tools to make schools safer. But the premiere has turned a blind eye,” Schreiner said in a statement.

Ontario Committed to Keeping Schools Safe: Minister of Education

In a statement, a spokesman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is committed to protecting pupils, staff and families, but that it did not provide a specific date for the decision to open schools next week.

“Every step of the way, we have implemented the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, including improving ventilation at each school, deploying 70,000 portable HEPA devices, high-quality masks, thousands of student vaccine pop-up clinics along with expanded testing opportunities and more staff hired to support safer schools, “Caitlin Clark’s statement said.

“Our government proactively implemented domestic PCR testing for all schools and 11 million rapid antigen tests directly for all students who learned in schools – the only province that does both – part of our ongoing commitment to protecting students, staff and families . “

In a statement, a spokesman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is committed to protecting pupils, staff and families, but that it did not provide a specific date for the decision to open schools next week. (Tijana Martin / The Canadian Press)

The uncertainty surrounding the situation in Ontario comes as some provinces plan to delay their school return or move online.

Quebec and Nova Scotia have postponed their return to school until at least January 10, and schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will be virtual in the first week of January, with the situation to be evaluated weekly. The BC Department of Education said this week that it plans a return to personal learning, albeit with “enhanced safety measures.”

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