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EDITORIAL: When “expert” plans look more like a gamble (Aug. 2020)

September 9th, 2020 · No Comments

It’s a plan created by experts, and teachers need to step-up. That’s what Premier Ford and his ministers are saying about their back-to-school plan for Ontario students. The plan, which deserves some praise for permitting some two dozen school boards across the province to have their high school students take half their courses online, effectively reduces class sizes. The elementary school strategy, however, has garnered a less than enthusiastic response from school boards, teachers, parents, and – experts. Five hundred new nurses, and thirteen hundred additional custodians are being hired, but this will do nothing to reduce direct transmission between students or between students and staff. Let’s take a closer look.

Federal public officials and a panel of experts from Ontario’s pediatric hospitals have said that physical distancing must be a critical component of any back to school plan. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, is one. Here’s her recommendation: arrange your school environment, physically and otherwise, so that physical distancing can happen. Ensure that the number of contacts children have is minimized.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto argues that class size matters.

“Even with 15 kids in a class, are you going to able to enforce physical distancing? Not a chance,” he says. “I think there is a lot of attention, rightly so, on trying to get these class sizes to be smaller… from a strictly epidemiological standpoint, the smaller the ratio, the better”.

The current Ontario plan sees class sizes hovering around 30, no different than pre-pandemic sizes. 

Ford likes to say that Ontario’s pre-pandemic teacher student ratios were the lowest in the country. This conclusion includes early childhood educators in the equation but doesn’t make the slightest difference when we are talking about the number of people in a classroom. It’s not an educator ratio we are debating it’s a health-yardstick and that’s why one can drive a truck between Sick Kids’, “lower class sizes,” and the premier’s position.

Transportation to and from schools has seemingly not entered onto the government’s radar screen either. For students who arrive by bus, all the separating of cohorts within the school goes out the window. This is a straight-up weak link in the plan.

And what about risks for school bus drivers, many of whom are retirees? Are they among the workers, that the premier wishes would just step-up? TTC drivers get a plexiglass bubble, we’ve heard of no such plan to protect school bus drivers, or their young passengers.

It is said that children are at a lower risk of contracting the coronavirus and and have a lower likelihood of exhibiting life threatening symptoms. What about their high-risk relatives? Do the bubbles need to contract now? What’s the plan when there is a confirmed positive case in a school cohort? Does the entire cohort need to self-isolate? Their parents and grandparents too? If all this is about getting the economy going again, we need to understand the economic consequences of that scenario. 

Ford needs to stop pretending this is the all the “experts’” doing. It’s a clear hedge against it failing miserably. It’s your doing Doug and it is an ill-conceived strategy. All this concerted effort to safe distance on the TTC, and in banks, grocery stores and other public areas may all be for naught if we don’t have a smart plan to keep the elementary schools from becoming a breeding ground for COVID’s explosion.


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