On July 30, 2020 Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, and Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health provided details of the over $300 million dollar plan to reopen Toronto schools during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan would send elementary students back to school full-time, five days a week, with the maximum class size allowed. "Self screening" and extensive cleaning protocols were the only changes offered that differed from pre-COVID-19 schooling - masks will not be required for students JK-3, physical distancing will only be enforced "when possible" and hand hygiene will be merely encouraged. These guidelines are more relaxed than those required for restaurants, bars and movie theatres.
This plan is not only dramatically underfunded - according to the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Liberal plans estimates for the costs of a safe provincial plan to reopen schools between $590 million and $3.2 billion - but it ignores key recommendations from the SickKids study:
- Physical distancing, namely through smaller class sizes
- Ensuring adequate ventilation
- Mitigation of risk for students at higher risk for critical disease
We, the undersigned, call on Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education to implement:
1) A reduction in class sizes to 15 students.
2) Split classes into cohorts (e.g.Quebec will divide classes into 'pods' of 6 children who will not have to physically distance from each other). Work with schools to plan how to separate different classes and cohorts during lunch and recesses; this may require additional staff at schools.
3) Ensure adequate ventilation in classrooms including open windows whenever weather permits, purchasing HEPA filters and potentially setting up outdoor teaching spaces; instruct each school to publicly provide data on the efficiency of current ventilation and HVAC systems.
4) Clearly outline what steps will be taken to protect students with conditions that put them at higher risk for infection.
The province has had months to plan for the start of the new school year and consult with experts only to make a minimal investment in preventive solutions. While it is important for our children to continue their education, our teachers and students deserve the safest environment possible to work at and learn in come September.
The Demand a Safe Return to Toronto Schools petition to Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education was written by Citizen Robyn and is in the category Education at GoPetition.