Ontario must decide to return to school while Omicron rages

Ontario students will return to school two days later than planned – Wednesday, Jan. 5 – and all staff will receive N95 masks before classes resume, sources told Star.

The province says they have delayed the start of school to distribute the masks to school and child care staff as well as an additional 3,000 HEPA air filters to classrooms across Ontario.

PCR and laboratory-based tests will continue for all students and staff who have COVID-19 symptoms, the health chief announced Thursday afternoon.

The province will also add additional restrictions on indoor sports and concert venues with 50 percent capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is less. Theaters – not cinemas – are also included in the changes that take effect on 31 December.

Earlier this week, the NDP slammed the Ontario government for waiting days before the planned return. Parents here should have already been told if their children will return to school, as there are only a few days left before teaching is to resume after the holiday break, NDP teaching critic Marit Stiles said Thursday morning.

The former Toronto District School Board trustee said she hears from parents who are “incredibly frustrated by the lack of communication. That’s all we think about as parents” and all that children ask.

“Family has to make decisions about work and childcare next week,” she said. “Employers do not know if employees will be back at work, and training workers need to know what to do to be prepared.”

The NDP also urged the province to provide free rapid tests to students and staff, hold vaccine clinics in schools, order vaccines for school staff and add COVID shots to the list of school vaccines for children and provide N95 masks to all staff.

Horwath said “there is a reason that Ontario is the province that has had children out of school most of the entire country, and that is on (premier) Doug Ford.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Families Coalition – a parent group that opposes school closures – has sent an email to supporters saying even a few days of school closures are not acceptable and that it will take legal action if necessary.

“Although framed as a delayed reopening, we know from past experience that this can lead to long school closures that harm children’s mental, academic, social and physical health,” the coalition said. “Every day counts for children, and we will not tolerate ANY delayed start. It is time to hold accountable those decision-makers who have repeatedly failed to prioritize children.”

The coalition is asking for donations to file an injunction if the personal tuition does not start on Monday.

“The injunction is a remedy that forces others than the government (ie the courts) to consider the weight of the now extensive and undeniable amount of evidence showing the harm inflicted on children by ongoing school closures and the shift to subordinate virtual learning. “

Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the province’s COVID-19 science table, told Star Wednesday that schools should not be closed until the government puts other restrictions in place to curb COVID-19, including stronger capacity limits and work-from-home recommendations.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has said their priority is to keep schools open.

“We know how critical personal learning is, and therefore we have followed the advice of the head of health and invested in safer schools with improved ventilation in every school in this province,” Caitlin Clark, Lecce’s director of media relations, said on Wednesday.

“With the Omicron variant on us, we take nothing for granted as we work with the health manager along the way rather than protecting personal learning and keeping all students, families and staff as safe as possible.”

Other provinces like Quebec, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador informed families that school start will be delayed due to cloud-rocking COVID-19 cases with the more transferable Omicron variant.

The extra time is a buffer between an expected increase in the number of infections due to holiday social gatherings and the start of classes, and to give staff time to prepare.

In BC, the government announced on Wednesday that children with special needs and those whose parents are essential workers will return as planned on Monday, but all other students will be phased back into class with full attendance the following Monday, January 10th.

Since the pandemic began, Ontario has closed schools and relocated children online for at least 26 weeks – more than any other province.

Because Ontario’s case numbers are at record highs, and as families socializing during the holidays could potentially lead to more infections, Drs. Anna Banerji that keeping the children learning at home for just a week or two may be the answer, “because it does not make very good sense to open schools and then close them down again.”

A letter signed by more than 500 Ontario doctors was sent to Premier Doug Ford, Lecce and Moore, stating that “several jurisdictions around the world have committed themselves to keeping schools open, regardless of the number of cases, and we are have to do the same. “

They note that although there have been COVID cases in schools, “there has been little or no COVID-19 transmission occurring in the school environment”, and children appear to have milder cases.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said they hope for news from the government sooner rather than later, and would prefer a regional approach.

“We need to know that by the end of the week,” said President Cathy Abraham, adding that boards support “whatever public health units think is safest for our staff and students to do.”

She also said “we recognize the challenges” to students’ mental health and well-being when moving to online learning, “but we also recognize the challenges of this virus.”

Abraham said she would like the government to provide N95 masks to teachers and staff.

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