Ford pens letter seeking input on school reopening

Premier Doug Ford announced tighter COVID-19 restrictions. April 16, 2021. (Capture via CPAC YouTube)

Premier Doug Ford has sent an open letter to medical officers of health, medical experts, and school officials seeking input on reopening schools.

Last week, the province released a three-phase reopening plan for the province, however schools were not part of the framework. At the time, Ford said a decision had not been made on schools because medical officials and education workers could not agree on the best way forward.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams expressed his willingness to reopen schools, but admitted it could result in a six to 11 per cent increase in overall COVID-19 cases in the province.

In his letter, Ford asks “whom it may concern” seven questions about reopening schools. They include:

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 variant45 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?

On May 20, the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health and the President and CEO of the Hospital for Sick Children Ronald Cohn penned a letter to Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Premier Ford. In it, they expressed their support for the reopening of schools.

“We believe with the current public health measures in place in schools, decreasing case counts and ever-increasing COVID-19 population vaccination rates (including school personnel) that it is time to re-open our schools. A return to in-person learning even for a short time before the summer break would provide multiple mental health and wellness benefits to students and their families,” said the letter in support of schools reopening.

NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles says Ford’s letter seeking input comes “troublingly late.”

“It’s the end of May, and just now Mr. Ford is asking health and education experts for feedback? Doug Ford needs to stop treating kids’ education as an afterthought, and spend what it takes to make schools safe, including smaller class sizes and better ventilation,” said Stiles.

Ford is looking for responses to his letter no later than 5 p.m. on May 28.