Should Ontario school boards be considering an extended Christmas break to try to stem the spread of covid 19?
The Council of Ontario Directors of Education has recommended that they should, for an extra few days or a week for the safety of students and staff. The idea is being considered by the Quebec government, where 20 per cent of new cases in the last two weeks have come from schools, but Premier Francois Legault did express reluctance to take that step, saying it would happen only as a last resort.
Quebec’s two main teachers’ unions and a prominent parents group say they’re opposed to closing schools in the province despite rising cases of COVID-19.
As of Wednesday, more than 1,200 classrooms across the province were closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The data from the Health Department also indicated more than 2,330 students and 700 school staff members had active cases of COVID-19.
And yet, the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, which represents teachers at English-language schools, along with a federation representing teachers at French-language schools, said Friday they did not support extending the winter break.
Corrine Payne, general director of the parents’ group Federation des comites de parents du Quebec, said her organization is worried about the long-term effects school closures could have on children.
In Ontario, where cases continue to climb to record daily highs, the Conservative government said it is not considering such a move at this point.
“Our focus remains on doing everything we can to keep students and educators safe while keeping schools open and students learning in person”, a Ministry of Education spokesperson said in a statement.
The Toronto District School Board also dismissed the idea, for the time being, saying they take direction from the ministry.
“It’s their call,” said media relations manager Ryan Bird.
Public health specialists are also reluctant to support the recommendation and prefer to take a wait and see approach.
“The schools are going to be one of the last things that will shut down not just for logistical or political reasons, but because so far schools have not proven to be a major source of transmission in Ontario,” says Dr. Barry Pakes, a public health physician and professor at the University of Toronto.
Pakes adds that in some ways it would make sense to keep schools closed for an extended period after Christmas because people will be gathering over the holidays which will likely lead to an increase in community spread. But he points out, it is still November and “there’s a long way to go before the Christmas break.”
His hope is that the numbers will improve before then. But he is also bracing for the worst: even higher case counts and deaths, and another widespread shutdown, which might very well include the schools.
Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report