Toronto school board chair seeks help with ‘concerning decline’ in student mental health

Children wait in a physical distancing circle at Portage Trail Community School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The chair of Ontario’s largest school board has written to all three levels of government calling for a plan to tackle students’ mental health.

Alexander Brown, chair of the Toronto District School Board, wrote a letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Brown said the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in “serious consequences” for young people’s health, including extended time online, lower youth employment and increased family poverty.

“As leaders in education, and in government, we have the responsibility to do everything in our power to protect and support the well-being of our children and youth,” he wrote.

Last week, the TDSB chair wrote a similar letter to Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education, requesting support for kindergarten students.

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Brown asked for a “partnership table” to be created between all three levels of government, school boards in Toronto and “other key stakeholders” to develop a response.

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The table should work through research on the impacts of COVID-19, poverty and violence on children and youth in Toronto, the chair wrote. It should coordinate access to programs for children in the city and improve data collection to “nimbly target” areas where the need is most critical.

The letter also called for any partnership to increase investment, support and programs for young children.

In November, TDSB resolved to spend $5.9 million from the Ontario government’s COVID-19 education fund on additional staffing.

The board funded positions including 16 social workers and 35 child and youth workers.

According to Brown’s letter, TDSB data shows a “concerning decline” in the metal health of students for 2020, 2021 and 2022. The board has also noted an increase in 20-day suspensions during the pandemic.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, a non-profit, found isolation and loneliness to be key concerns for young people during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

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“We must work together and provide a collaborative and strategic approach that will better serve our youth and address the root of this alarming issue,” Brown wrote.

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