UPDATE:400 doctors have signed and sent a letter to Premier Ford asking for an in-depth peer review of the modelling which informed the decision to keep schools closed until September, a return to in-person learning for summer school and a commitment to restore uninterrupted in-person schooling in September. The doctors point out the Ford did not have any modelling done before opening the economy.
KAWARTHA LAKES-A new report by the COVID-19 Science Table found Ontario public school students are likely two to three months behind in their learning because of school closures brought on by the pandemic.
“While there are numerous differences in how studies measure the impact of COVID-19-related disruptions on learning (i.e., standard deviations, months behind, scaled points behind, percentages of students not at grade level), most point to average achievement that was well behind that of earlier cohorts, measured at the same point in preceding school year(s),” stated the authors.
The study also found that virtual learning led to increased absenteeism, unexplained declines in overall school enrolment and sustained declines in the amount of time students report devoting to homework.
“Each month of skill loss is predicted to cause a one per cent drop in lifetime earnings for affected cohorts and is estimated to decrease the national income by 0.5 percent per year, which would translate to a GDP loss for Canada of 1.6 trillion,” stated the authors.
Aside from the loss in lifetime earnings, children’s health experts say the closures have harmed children in many ways.
In May, Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital urged the province to immediately reopen schools to mitigate the damage caused.
“School closures create significant harms. While the pandemic was surging, school closures were a necessary step to control that surge. However, school closures create harm. Surveys show a substantial deterioration of mental health status among children and youth during the pandemic. This deterioration is now evident in the form of increased ambulatory care use and hospital admissions, most poignantly for children and youth with eating disorders. We believe these mental health indicators represent the tip of the iceberg and that children and youth mental health will present significant long-term challenges during our recovery from the pandemic.” stated the Doctors at Sick Kids in a letter to the province.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said schools would not resume in-person instruction in June, saying government modeling found in-person classes could increase Coronavirus transmission and jeopardize plans to reopen the rest of the economy.
However, the experts at Sick Kids said that would not happen.
“Science Table modelling suggests that the total increase in cases that would result from re-opening schools is small. Most public health units believe that they can mitigate and manage those increases in their communities.” stated Sick Kids.
Indeed the Minister of Education has claimed all along that schools are not a significant source of COVID-19 transmission and merely amplified the spread of the virus already circulating in the community.
The Ministry is so sure kids don’t spread the virus they have kept daycares and childcare centres open for non-school-aged children through the school closures.
We asked the province to explain why daycares remain open while schools are closed.
“Recognizing that child care provides an integral role in the learning and development of children and a trusted and safe environment for children so that parents can work, child care has largely remained open during time-limited public health actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Ministry of Education told Kawartha 411 News in response to that question.
There are over 5,500 licensed child care centres and over 130 licensed home child care agencies in Ontario that remain open while all schools are closed.
We asked if daycares had different health and safety protocols than schools.
“Health and safety training, adherence to protocols, practicing hand hygiene, consistent screening, mask use and physical distancing have been key factors contributing to the safe environments fostered within child care settings and their ability to remain open to serve front line staff & families, like our front line nurses and ICU doctors. Our priority is keeping our child care centres open and most especially safe.”
All of the same protocols in place at your local school, which remains closed.
The Ministry told Kawartha 411 News that across Ontario, 96% of child care centres are open and 97% do not have a single reported active case of COVID-19.
They said the same thing about schools.
“Parents want the facts. Here’s a fact that I think would instil a level of confidence: if they knew that 99.95% of students are COVID-free, that 99.92% of staff are COVID-free, that 99.7% of staff have never had COVID. I appreciate that that may, for whatever reason, bring concern to you, but I think for most folks out there, they’re pleased to hear that our leadership in public health and our school boards are working together to flatten this curve, to reduce the risk and to keep our kids safe.” Minister Lecce told the legislature in November 2020.
The unequal distribution of school closures and pandemic-associated hardships, particularly affecting low-income families in which racialized and Indigenous groups, newcomers and people with disabilities are overrepresented, appear to be deepening and accelerating inequities in education outcomes, wherever data have been collected according to the Science Table. Further, they say there are health risks associated with closures including significant physical, mental health and safety harms for students and children.
“Identifying or tracking areas where students are facing the greatest challenges in the wake of COVID-19 and implementing systematic supports to address pandemic-associated educational harms are critical to minimizing the overall impact and supporting students.” stated the Science Table.
It remains unclear why schools remain closed.