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EDITORIAL: Ford’s school plan is a fail (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

Ontario parents have been eagerly awaiting the “robust” plan for a safe re-entry back to classrooms Premier Doug Ford promised in June. The past year has been brutal for both the education and mental health of Ontario students, as they have spent more time out of classroom than young people in any other part of the country. However, the 26 page document outlining how the government intends to keep students safe does them no favours: it’s late (coming out less than a month before the start of school) and is little more than a carbon copy of last year’s failed plan.

Yet again, we will see no reduction in class sizes and school buses will again be full. This year, students will be allowed to play contact sports, participate in music classes, gather in the cafeterias, libraries, and common areas outside of their cohorts. There will be no vaccine requirement for staff or students. It’s not even clear if the schools are allowed to ask who is fully vaccinated – for COVID 19 – schools can demand proof of measles or whooping cough vaccinations. 

The back-to-school plan appears to pin its hopes on vaccines to keep community transmission down, yet, does not require them for congregating teachers, staff or students. There is still no vaccine available for children under age 12 and the Delta variant of COVID-19 is more contagious than past variants. so why is Ford’s plan to relax restrictions? While in many cases it appears that kids are better at fighting COVID-19 than adults, some children who contract it require hospitalization, treatment in the ICU, and to be placed on a ventilator. According to the Mayo Clinic, kids with underlying conditions are at a higher risk of serious illness with COVID-19.

In Scotland, students and staff alike are offered rapid tests twice a week and carbon monoxide monitors regularly assess airflow in shared spaces. In Ontario, the plan is to provide cash to school boards and simply hope that the right equipment is purchased, installed, and maintained. Knowing the Ford government, would it be too cynical to think that the plan is to throw money at school boards three weeks before schools open, and then blame them when schools shut down due to high infection rates?

The University of Toronto’s approach with its residence buildings is pro-active and just might work. The school is testing waste water from each building to detect copies of the virus. If found, the students and staff in the originating building will be tested by a rapid screening team to try to prevent an outbreak. Further, the University is requiring staff in close proximity to students to get vaccinated, if not they will need to endure daily rapid-testing.

Queen’s Park has also failed to release any metric as to what threshold of infection within a school would warrant a closure. If there is an outbreak, will they contact trace back to the parents? Will the whole family have to isolate? Hard to imagine that this would happen, considering there are no paid sick days, meaning that parents may choose to go to work despite being ill. 

The Ford back-to-school plan sounds a lot more like a fourth-wave plan.

Just to re-cap: the plan that kept kids out of school last year is on repeat this year, with a few questionable new permissions added in alongside money for new ventilation systems in schools. The tools that could be used to keep kids safe in the classroom continue to be ignored: vaccine requirements for those 12 and older, rapid-testing of the asymptomatic, school windows that actually open, ventilation monitoring, reduced class sizes, and clear protocols for what happens when positive cases are detected.

Once again, our esteemed premier cooks up a plan that is incoherent and cowardly and now we are likely doomed to repeat our recent history, having apparently learned nothing.

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Tags: Annex · Editorial · Opinion