A group of children’s health organizations says more needs to be done to protect in-person learning in Ontario as additional school closures were announced in the province Tuesday due to COVID-19.
“Schools are closing and more may shut down in-person learning because we haven’t been able to contain community transmission of coronavirus in Ontario,” a statement from the Children’s Health Coalition said.
“Collectively, we have failed our children.”
The group, made up of children’s hospitals and health-care organizations, called on the government to “do everything in their power” to have schools reopened where they have closed and “save the school year.”
On Tuesday, it was announced that Toronto’s medical officer of health is invoking powers under Ontario law to order all local schools closed for in-person instruction beginning Wednesday due to rising COVID-19 cases.
Peel Region’s medical officer made the same decision Monday for schools in that municipality, and the measures took effect Tuesday.
Schools in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph will also be shuttered as of Wednesday after a decision by the local medical officer of health.
The April break is scheduled for next week.
The statement from the Children’s Health Coalition said that schools should be the last facilities to close and the first to open, and called on the government to implement “enhanced measures” in a bid to curb community transmission of COVID-19 and ensure schools are safe.
The group called for paid sick days for essential workers, vaccines for essential workers in hot spot neighbourhoods, stronger infection prevention and control strategies, more robust testing and contact tracing in high-risk communities, a campaign to improve vaccine uptake, and the closure of non-essential retail businesses.
The group said without stricter measures, school closures will be “ineffective.”
“We know that long-term school closures can seriously harm the learning, mental health and development of children,” the statement said.
“Children who face the most harm from the loss of in-person learning are often also those most at risk: children from racialized communities, low-income families, children with disabilities, children with mental illness and children with learning difficulties …
“If we don’t act swiftly to protect schools, education workers and students, we may have no choice but to face another long-term school closure.”
— With files from Nick Westoll