Ontario doctors urge premier to make commitment for 'uninterrupted, in-person schooling' in September

FILE - AN empty teacher's desk is pictured at the front of a empty classroom at Mcgee Secondary school in Vancouver on Sept. 5, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

A group of Ontario's doctors is accusing Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario government of prioritizing industry over schools with its decision to keep schools closed for the final month of the school year.

In a letter to Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Health Minister Christine Elliott, the doctors call on Ontario to make a commitment for a return to in-person learning for summer school and "uninterrupted, in-person schooling" in September.

"The lasting effects of this crisis on children and youth will not go away with improving case numbers. It will require years of academic catch-up and social and emotional recovery," said the doctors in a letter to the premier.

"The single intervention that could have launched this recovery would have been a return to in-person learning and you were unwilling to make this happen for Ontario’s children and youth."

Ottawa physicians Dr. Kwadwo Kyeremanteng, Dr. Jane Liddle and Dr. Katherine Matheson are among the 400 physicians who signed the letter.

Premier Ford announced last week that schools would remain closed for in-person learning until September, and the school year would conclude online.

"Your top doctors and pediatric experts in children's health and well-being unanimously weighed in, in support of return to in-person learning, while educators said this decision was best made by local health experts," said the letter.

"You have chosen to ignore the answers you received and instead you have taken a stance in support of industry. But it is more than a stance; it is a prioritization of industry over schools and adults over children."

On Friday, Ontario will enter Step One of the Roadmap to Reopen plan, allowing private gatherings of up to 10 people, restaurant patios to open and non-essential business to open with limited capacity.

"The truth is that we can have both; schools can open and so can industry," said the letter released Wednesday afternoon.

"Real life data tells us that schools do not compromise communities and therefore there is no reason to believe that school reopening would delay the provincial plan to re-open industry."

The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said there would be a six to 11 per cent increase in daily COVID-19 cases if schools reopened.   The province also stated the decision to keep schools closed would protect families from the B.1.617.2 COVID variant.

"At a time when our top priority is putting the third wave behind us so that we can safely enter Step One of our Roadmap to Reopen, we can’t risk increased cases and potential downstream impacts on hospitals and ICUs," said Ford in a statement on June 2. "Making this tough decision now will allow kids to safely enjoy camps and outdoor activities this summer, and a safe return to school in September."

The letter from the doctors states that the effect of school re-opening on COVID-19 case numbers have shown to be "relatively small," adding there is no data to suggest the new variants of concern, in particular the B.1.617.2, are more virulent in children, youth and adults.

The doctors say Ontario is now in a different place then it was in early April when schools were closed for in-person learning.

"Our vaccine rollout has accelerated and we have learned that the first dose alone carries substantial risk reduction in terms of severe illness. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease in adults hospitalized with COVID-19-related illness," said the letter.

"Yet, the massive devastation to children and youth continues to grow and what has emerged is a parallel crisis is children’s mental health and well-being."

The doctors make three requests for the Ontario government:

  • An in-depth peer review of the modeling which informed the decision to keep schools closed until September
  • A return to in-person learning for students registered in summer school
  • A commitment to restore uninterrupted, in-person schooling in September

"It is not too late to take a stance in support of Ontario’s children and youth and set into motion their recovery process," writes the doctors.