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COVID-19: Doug Ford pens letter asking doctors, experts whether Ontario schools should reopen

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WATCH ABOVE: Premier Doug Ford has written a letter to nearly 50 stakeholders in the health and education sectors, seeking advice on school reopenings, while his own science table has differing views on the matter. Kamil Karamali reports – May 27, 2021

Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a letter on Thursday asking for input from doctors and educators as to whether or not schools should reopen amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario students have been in remote learning since the April Break (delayed March Break), with the exception of Peel, Toronto and Guelph students having been moved prior.

Ford asked for responses to be submitted by Friday at 5 p.m. and attached seven questions.

Read more: COVID-19: Schools to remain closed as Ontario unveils reopening plan

“In recent weeks, there has been a wide range of advice and commentary around the reopening of schools in Ontario,” Ford wrote. “There is consensus in some quarters on how, when and whether schools should reopen, and diverse and conflicting views in others.”

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Ontario parents, critics and experts have been calling on resuming in-person learning due to the possibility of detrimental effects on students in regards to their mental health.

Dr. Adalsteinn (Steini) Brown, co-chair for Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, had previously said schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen.

Ford said there were differing opinions as to whether or not schools should open, pointing to the province’s chief medical officer of health being in favour of reopening schools. However, the premier said some doctors on the science table are not in favour.

Modelling numbers released last Thursday indicated that if schools were to reopen on June 2, after the current stay-at-home order expires, that cases could jump anywhere between six to 11 per cent.

Read more: Ontario school boards would be able to resume in-person learning with few days’ notice

“We are expecting new modelling this week that puts the range of new cases associated with school reopening between 2,000 and 4,000 cases by the end of July. This is concerning,” Ford wrote.

The letter also cited a recent British study that a single vaccine dose was only 33 per cent effective against the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India.

“What makes all this new information concerning is that only 41 per cent of teachers and education workers are vaccinated compared to 62 per cent of the general adult population in Ontario,” Ford wrote.

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In addition, many students are not yet vaccinated at all due to a lack supply, he said.

The following are the seven questions posed by Ford:

  1. Is the reopening of schools for in person learning safe for students?
  2. Is the reopening of schools for in person learning safe for teachers and all education staff?
  3. There are a growing number of cases in Ontario of the variant first identified in India (B.1.617). Does this mutation pose an increased risk to students and education workers?
  4. The modelling from the Ontario Science Table has suggested that reopening schools will lead to an increase in cases in the province of Ontario, is this acceptable and safe?
  5. Other countries are warning mutations including the B.1.617 variant are putting children at much greater risk and are shutting schools down. Is this concern not shared by medical experts in Ontario?
  6. Should teachers be fully vaccinated before resuming in-class lessons and if not, is one dose sufficient?
  7. Under Ontario’s reopening plan, indoor gatherings won’t commence until July. Should indoor school instruction resume before then?

Several Ontario school boards said Wednesday they would be able to resume in-person learning with a few days’ notice if the government decides to send students back to classrooms for the last month of the academic year.

Critics accused Ford of sitting on his hands for many months, creating a last-minute scramble.

“It’s the end of May, and just now Mr. Ford is asking health and education experts for feedback?” New Democrat education critic Marit Stiles said. “Doug Ford needs to stop treating kids’ education as an afterthought.”

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Green party Leader Mike Schreiner accused Ford of “fully abdicating his responsibility” by looking for a consensus.

“Being premier isn’t about being popular,” Schreiner said. “It’s about making the tough decisions but Ford continues to punt responsibility when it matters most.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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