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Despite Experts Calling For Schools To Reopen, Premier Announces They Will Remain Closed Until September

KAWARTHA LAKES-Sarah Anne Horslen used to teach yoga online. It was a career she loved and found fulfilling. Since the pandemic began and schools were shuttered she’s put that on hold to support her children’s online learning.

“The teaching yoga online was basically scrubbed, because I couldn’t run my classes and have the kids online at the same time.” Sarah Anne told Kawartha 411 News.  “Then with my son in high school and my daughter in grade 7 they had different needs and assistance, so it was really hard for me to try to maintain teaching and then helping my kids at the same time.”

The Dunsford area mom was really hoping for in-class learning to resume before the end of the year. She’s not alone many others have been struggling with wearing many hats.

However, the Ontario government will not open schools for in-class learning for all elementary and secondary students across the province for the remainder of this school

Details were provided today by Premier Ford, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs,” said Premier Ford. “Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September.”

Recent modelling presented by the Science Advisory Table revealed that if Ontario reopened schools to in-person learning the province could see an increase of six to 11 per cent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases. It is unknown how many of these would be the new, more dangerous B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India, which has entered the province through Canada’s borders.

Members of the Advisory Table and the Chief Medical Officer of Health all said the benefits of reopening schools outweighed the risk of a possible increase in cases. Schools in Ontario have been closed longer than any jurisdiction in Canada.

“While this decision was not made lightly, it has been done with one aim: protect the summer for families and deliver a stable and safe September for students,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “We are looking forward and taking action by getting all education workers and students vaccinated with both doses ahead of September, while investing an additional $2 billion to ensure students and staff are safe.”

The Hospital for Sick Children and The Canadian Paediatric Society both said it was better for kids mental health to be in school and they urged the government to reopen classrooms.

A letter dated May 8th said, “Research tells that only a small minority of children with mental distress present for help. There are untold more we are not seeing.”

The doctors point to a study by Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto that found 70% of school-aged children reported deterioration of mental health and says social isolation is by far the biggest predictor of poor mental health for children, and it’s completely preventable.

“We are calling on the government to immediately re-open outdoor recreation spaces unless you have data showing these venues are sources of transmission. Mobilize plans to safely reopen schools before the end of the 2020-2021 school year.” stated the letter from the Canadian Paediatric Society almost a month ago.

Last week the Premier asked experts for advice. Again Sick Kids said schools could open safely on a regional basis saying:

“School closures create significant harms. A survey shows substantial deterioration of mental health status among children and youth during the pandemic.” The response was signed by 13 different children’s medical groups including Sick Kids, McMaster Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ontario Medical Association and Paediatricians Alliance of Ontario and more.

The government says students, parents and families have mental health resources that are available to them through their school board as well as through other providers, including Kids Help Phone, which offers 24/7 counselling and referral services across the province, as well as resources through School Mental Health Ontario and services through child and youth mental health agencies across the province.

Premier Ford says vaccines remain the best defence against COVID-19 and to date, more than 9.36 million doses have been administered in Ontario and a plan to accelerate second doses has just been released. Youth aged 12 and over are currently eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the provincial booking system and call centre, as well as at select pharmacies administering the Pfizer vaccine.

To book an appointment online, these individuals must already be 12 years old as of the date of their booking. Individuals who are not 12 years old at the time of booking can book an appointment for a later date through the provincial call centre or directly through public health units that use their own booking system. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine that has been authorized by Health Canada for use in individuals aged 12 and over. In addition, the province is encouraging eligible family members who have not received a vaccine to attend these clinics to get youth and their families vaccinated as quickly as possible.

These measures will ensure that all Ontarians aged 12 and older who want to will be fully vaccinated by the end of summer, including students and educational staff according to the government.

Child Care Centres apparently don’t contribute to virus transmission and emergency child care (ECC) will continue until the end of June to align with the end of the elementary school year. Before and after school programs must contribute to spread and thus will remain closed according to the government.

Ironically licensed child care centres may resume serving school-aged children for full days in programming over the summer months, in accordance with the Ministry of Education’s health and safety guidance. Those before and after school programs that operate as a camp over the summer will be permitted to do so, and will follow health and safety guidance from the Ministry of Health.

Horslen’s kids are in grades 7 and 9 and she says they have lost their drive for learning.

“The thing that’s really been the most though is just having to be there for mental support, and for helping them through day-to-day things that seem to be affecting them way more than they would before.” she says.  “Being at home for so long, and then in and out of school and never knowing what’s really going to go on, they really lost their drive for learning this year. Because sitting in front of a screen for hours a day is really not teaching them anything.”

But they can have a graduation ceremony.(The virus won’t transmit there?) The government will “allow” school boards to invite graduating students in elementary schools (by class) and secondary schools (by homeroom/quadmestered class) to return to school in June for a short, outdoor celebration, where physical distancing is possible.

“The long term effects of this is going to be so far-reaching. Poor kids.” states Horslen.

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Pamela Vanmeer
Pamela Vanmeerhttps://www.kawartha411.ca/
Pamela VanMeer is a two time winner of the prestigious Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Award. Her investigative reports on abuse in Long Term Care Homes garnered international attention for the issue and won the Ron Laidlaw Award. She is a former reporter and anchor at CHEX News, now Global Peterborough and helped launch the New CHEX Daily, a daily half hour talk show. While at CHCH News in Hamilton she covered some of the biggest news stories of the day.

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