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Opinion: Ontario’s back-to-school decision approved by experts, backed by data


Opinion: Ontario’s back-to-school decision approved by experts, backed by data

On Wednesday, February 3, the Government of Ontario gave parents and teachers the certainty that they deserve. The province announced official reopening dates for all Ontario school boards in a move that is vital for students’ physical, mental, and educational health. While students in Northern Ontario have been back for a few weeks, the majority of students in Southern Ontario continued to learn virtually throughout January.

But now that Ontario’s daily new cases are down to early December levels, the province officially announced return dates: Monday, February 8 for all regions except Toronto, Peel, and York and Tuesday, February 16 (the day after Family Day) for the remaining three regions.

Some will be quick to bash the re-opening plan as “unsafe” (namely the Liberals and the NDP). On one hand, who can blame them? It is their job as opposition parties to disseminate their core messaging and criticize the Government. But on the other hand, their claim that “schools are unsafe” appears to be unfounded.

The school reopening plan is backed by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and has the unanimous support of all local Medical Officers of Health. The province, particularly Education Minister Stephen Lecce, has been incredibly busy consulting with health experts. In fact, right before Wednesday’s announcement, Minister Lecce was meeting with Medical Officers from across the province, including a personal call with Hamilton’s Dr. Elizabeth Richardson.

Doctors endorse back-to-school

Ontario is the only province that has taken an extra cautious approach to reopening schools (and rightly so). But now is the time to reopen. On February 2, a group of more than 100 doctors from across Canada sent an open letter to federal and provincial governments to keep schools open. The letter included signatories from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and McMaster University.

Martha Fulford, an associate professor in infectious diseases at McMaster University, and one of the signatories of the letter, told the Globe and Mail that schools do not appear to significantly amplify virus transmission, but merely reflect the number of cases in the community.

The latest data from Ottawa Public Health (OPH) certainly appears to back that assertion. OPH released a report on February first detailing that “there were 888 cases of COVID-19 identified among school attendees. Most (85%) got their infection outside of school.”

It should be noted that the Ontario Government’s reopening plan also includes an additional $381 million for enhanced safety measures such as targeted voluntary asymptomatic testing, mandatory masks outdoors if not physical distancing, enhanced screening measures, hiring of extra custodians and other staff, and ventilation devices for classrooms where ventilation is a concern. These COVID supports are in addition to the already landmark investment of over $25.5 billion in education for the 2020-21 school year (an increase of over $700 million). The Ontario PCs haven’t cut the education budget (as some claim). They have increased it.

The other thing? If a parent/guardian has a child that is high-risk or that they feel should continue learning at home, then the option is there to continue virtual learning. The flexibility is there. It’s a win-win situation.

Yet another medical professional, Janet Weisz, an Assistant Clinical Professor at McMaster University wrote in The Hamilton Spectator on February 2 that “keeping our schools open provides the greatest protection for our children’s physical, mental, and educational health for today and tomorrow.”

And that is exactly what the Ontario Government has done: opened up schools with a plan approved by medical experts and backed by data.

By: Kevin Geenen: Kevin Geenen is a student at the University of Ottawa. He is seeking the Ontario PC Party nomination in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and can be followed via social media.

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