Adam: Make sure Ontario schools are truly ready for the fall, Premier Ford

Many children have had mental health problems. Others have struggled with online learning or suffered long-term academic damage. We need to fix all this while ensuring students are safe from COVID too.

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As weary and frustrated parents feel let down at the Ontario government’s decision to keep schools closed until September, businesses are breathing a sigh of relief as Stage 1 reopening begins in earnest.

Parents of school-age children can be counted among the heroes of this pandemic, struggling as many have, with childcare, the pressures of working and managing online school for their children. One can only imagine the emotional toll on them. Many parents are simply exhausted and need a break as much as the children need to go back to school for their mental health.

But Premier Doug Ford is right on this one. Ford has done some things wrong during this pandemic, but keeping schools closed to in-person learning for the remainder of the school year is not one of them.

Yes, COVID numbers are falling, fairly dramatically in some cities and regions. Across Ontario, we’ve gone from 4,000 cases a day to about 500. In Ottawa, new infections have been down to less than 20 a day, from about 200 only weeks ago. It seems like the right time to throw the doors wide open. The thing is, we’ve been here before: We saw plunging numbers, opened too quickly and suddenly found ourselves in a massive new wave. This time, let’s stay the course.


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But even as restrictions are being loosened on businesses and outdoor events, there are still important things to do, beginning with fixing the problems in the vaccination drive. It doesn’t help anyone when the government opens up appointments for all comers if there aren’t enough vaccines to meet the demand. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson is right. People want the shots, but there’s no point in getting them excited about booking appointments, then leaving them frustrated because there aren’t enough vaccines to go around. Vaccination is the key to reopening everything, including schools, and we don’t want people getting so frustrated they give up entirely. The government must fix this problem quickly to restore public confidence.


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It is also important for the government, educators and experts to use the time between now and September to do all the planning needed and put in place measures that ensure a smooth return to school. Right now, September seems like a long way off, but it’s not. There are important things the government must start thinking about for the good of our children.

Many children have had mental health problems. Others have struggled with online learning and may have suffered long-term academic damage. An open letter penned last month by a group of top researchers, doctors and academics warned that school children are “on the cusp of a generational catastrophe” as these experts argued for immediate reopening. Ford chose to err on the side of caution and reopen schools in September, because he couldn’t get assurances from doctors and scientists that reopening immediately wouldn’t lead to new infections. The danger to children, however, remains. That’s why everything should be done, beginning now, to ensure the damage to them is not irreparable.


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There are several issues to resolve. For instance, what help is available to returning students who are facing mental health problems and how is it going to be delivered? Are there enough mental health professionals to deal with the problems, and if not, are they being assembled? And what about who have suffered academically, many of them from low-income communities lacking access to the right technology? How do they catch up? How do we make sure they are not left behind? And, importantly, are there enough resources to cope?

A recent report by the provincial financial watchdog says Ontario is $12 billion short in education funding over the next eight years, and may have to provide more money or cut spending.

There are always disagreements between governments and their financial watchdogs, but this is the time to speak with one voice and give Ontario’s two million school children the urgent help they need.

That should be our focus over the next three months.

Mohammed Adam is an Ottawa journalist and commentator. Reach him at [email protected]


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