by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Last month, 500 Ontario doctors authored an open letter to Doug Ford and his Progressive-Conservative government, giving their strong professional opinion that schools in the province should open on schedule following the regular Christmas break period. The letter puts forth four reasons for the recommendation, the first and longest of which is that “the harms of school closures are extensive and have impacted academic, social, and emotional, and physical and mental health domains.” Other reasons point to the low risk of severe illness in COVID-19 in children, the apparent lesser severity of the Omicron variant itself, and the low COVID-19 transmission rates in schools thus far.
The letter was penned a full three days prior to the Ford government deciding first, on December 30, that schools would delay reopening until January 5, and finally, extending the closure until at least January 17. It is unclear why the letter did not impact the decision making, though a widely circulated press conference video shows Doug Ford proudly stating that it took him only “30 seconds” to decide to close schools, citing high case counts and hospitalizations in the province.
Writing for the National Post in a January 5 article, Chris Selley points out that Canadian schools are not following global trends by being closed at this time. Many experts around the world have recognized that the science does not support school closures as a necessary step to ensuring public safety. In fact, school closures provide far more psychological harm than physical protection. In addition to the 500 doctors who signed the open letter, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s top doctor, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, stated in a CTV News interview in the last week of December that schools should be the last thing in the province to close.
Yet another professional who criticized the province’s decision was Ottawa Doctor Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, who pointed out in an interview with CTV News that any COVID-19 transmission in schools is very unlikely to have an impact on hospitals. He further posited that since parents often have to miss work when their children are engaged in online schooling, many hospital staff will need to miss work due to the school closures, meaning that closing schools may impact hospitals more than keeping schools open. He also pointed out that daycares have been allowed to remain open, despite the school closures. “We just need to make schools a priority,” he said in the interview.
It is certainly not too late for the Ford government to reverse its position on the reopening of schools. Many parents are hoping for just that, and a petition has been started to exert some pressure. The petition had about 2,500 signatures as of January 5, and had climbed to over 4,000 signatures by early in the day on January 6. The petition can be found at https://chng.it/Y5zzV9P4B7.