Premier Doug Ford is ready to listen to opinions on whether schools should reopen this year. But get back to him by 5 p.m. Friday.

The premier asked a wide range of Ontario professionals for advice about sending students back to school in an open letter addressed to unions, professional associations and public health units on Thursday. The call for advice comes with one month left of school before summer break for more than two millions Ontario students who have been studying at home for at least six weeks.

Many of those stakeholders Ford has appealed to have been increasingly vocal about both the lack of safety measures at schools and the dangers of keeping children home any longer. Ford's decision will affect the living and working conditions of families of more than two million school-aged children and youth in the province and those who work with them.

“We need now to ensure there is broad consensus from our medical, public health, and education experts that returning to school is the right thing to do,” Ford said in the letter noting the “wide range of advice and commentary” already provided.

Those addressed largely agree that whenever possible young people should be in classrooms that have been made as safe as possible, but have differing opinions on whether the government has accomplished that goal and how important that is relative to the damage being done by keeping children at home for extended periods.

Critics immediately jumped on the three-page letter as an abdication of responsibility from a government that has not done enough to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes or otherwise make schools safer for students and staff.

“Is there a missing page where Ford outlines what steps HE’LL take to make schools safe to reopen?” the Opposition NDP’s education critic Marit Stiles said on Twitter.

Michael Coteau, a Liberal MPP and former minister of community and social services, said Ford can’t demand consensus.

“Leaders always receive conflicting and contradictory advice from different sources,” he wrote on Twitter, the social media platform where much of the advice from these groups (and scores of somewhat anonymous accounts of frustrated teachers and parents) is already delivered.

Ontario premier @fordnation is asking for advice on whether schools should reopen in June or wait until September #onpoli #OntEd

“If Doug Ford didn't want to make tough decisions, take responsibility and be accountable, he shouldn't be Premier of Ontario,” Coteau said.

While vaccination rates in the province (and the country) are improving after a slow start, newer variants of concern circulating in Ontario pose a distinct threat should schools reopen.

“We are expecting new modelling this week that puts the range of new cases associated with school reopening between 2,000 to 4,000 cases by the end of July,” Ford’s three-page letter said.

It pointed out more recent variants of the original virus have surged elsewhere and are making children sicker, are potentially more deadly and are more resistant to vaccines and also acknowledged that the most vulnerable students in Ontario have been hit hardest.

“We know the mental health, academic and other challenges some students have faced with at-home learning, particularly those from low-income, racialized and high needs neighbourhoods,” the letter said.

Those communities — much more likely to rely on public transport or otherwise need to get to jobs that can't be done remotely -- have been much harder hit by COVID-19 spread and had a harder time getting vaccinated.

Teachers’ unions were blocked from filing a blanket health-and-safety complaint at the labour relations board just ahead of last September’s back-to-school season. They maintain the government has not invested enough to protect students and staff.

The Ontario Parent Action Network calculates Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are cutting $481 per student from the next year’s budget, or $14,000 per classroom.

“They simply do not care about the mental health, learning, or safety of kids,” the advocacy group said. “If they did, why cut?”

The Canadian Paediatric Society, the province’s biggest children’s hospitals and other medical and child advocacy groups last week implored Ford, Lecce, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health, to reopen schools immediately.

“The benefits of a few weeks cannot be overstated,” they wrote. “Our front-line educators are in a position to recognise signs of abuse and to support children suffering with mental health issues.”

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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What are the pediatricians seeing, that we would understand to be harmful to children?
I keep hearing that's what pediatricians are asking for, but have never been able to find why, and why it's worse for 6 weeks in spring than it is for two months in summer.
I look at the numbers, and the history, and the science that's hard to miss, graphs that show the numbers of kids and daycares and schools ... AND the numbers of Kent (UK) variant to be the far majority of cases here in Toronto. Case numbers still higher than at the peak of the first wave ... and I wouldn't send my child to school at all under those conditions, never mind to a schoolroom where kids are unmasked and the city's "reopened" ... where the engineering systems are all old ... and there's not enough room for kids to not infect one another ...
Kids lungs are in bad enough shape with the city's pollution, without challenging them further with Covid scarring.

Working parents are in an awful position ... tag-team parenting and scheduling computer schooltime and work facetime must be a nightmare. Nobody likes it. It's not been a good thing for anyone. Seniors have been under stay-at-home orders for over 7 months. Many older workers have been laid off, and won't find jobs when the dust settles. Lots of workers have had hours reduced, or been laid off for the duration. University students aren't able to experience campus life. Teens are not able to spend time in the company of friends (but they do: not distanced, unmasked). Younger kids can't take part in acivities they loved. Babies have parents frustrated with staying indoors, and doing their best to keep everyone safe.
The vaccination metrics aren't where the announced policy said the first stage of reopening would happen.
There'll never be a fully-vaccinated population, and the vaccines don't prevent asymptomatic but contagious cases anyway. They were never said to prevent them: only a given percentage of the vaccinated individuals.
I hear news reports of fully vaccinated people being hospitalized, and some dying of Covid, not only in Canada but also abroad.
No matter what, there will be an ongoing need at least in urban centres, for distancing and masking rules.
I don't understand any logic at all in pushing kids back into classrooms where nothing's changed since classrooms were closed due to outbreaks, which meant someone in the classroom had to have given it to someone else in the classroom.
The kids who've been most disadvantaged around Covid, are the kids who've been most disadvantaged before Covid, and are the very kids at greatest risk of getting Covid -- and of spreading it to classmates.
The points about which neighbourhoods and occupation demographics are bearing the brunt in terms of schooling, are absolutely true. That's not the issue, though. The issue around school reopening is about the reasons they had to be closed in the first place: the safety of kids and their contacts. Nothing has been done abaout that, at all.

2-4K cases includes a lot of deaths. For just 4 weeks, till school would be over anyway. Not to mention that the thrill of June at school were the various completely non-academic activities that took place. Those won't happen anyway because no safe distancing can be practised.

We all want to get back to "normal," but it's never going to be "normal" the way it was before. And the prospect of school closures, workplace closures, etc., will be with us for a long time.

I don't think he's asking for advice, let alone consensus. He got the bejezuzz scared out of him being called out as the point man who failed to prevent the second and third waves from being as bad as they were ... and the chickens are just starting to come home to roost around his LTC failures. He just wants to be able to claim it wasn't his fault a bad decision was made. This time around, he can't hide what the medical people are telling him; much as he'd like to appear to be satisfying everyone, he'll have to own this one, and be seen to do it. And not everyone will be happy: that's a given.


Spot on! You have expressed exactly what needs to be said about this. Before schools reopen, whether in June or in the fall, there must be serious action to ensure safety. That means spending the money needed to upgrade ventilation systems in all schools. We know kids don't wear masks properly all the time. We know now that the virus is airborne, so it is simply unacceptable to expect kids and teachers to share a small space for several hours a day where there's insufficient ventilation. Ford must spend the money that he is sitting on and keep our kids safe
Teresa Porter

Of course he did. He has not listened to the health professionals, nor the teachers, and his minster appears to be suspended. But he does not know how to listen. On the environment, he has not really talked to environmentalists nor natural heritage professionals, but has courted developers and the aggregate industry while he pushes not one but two highways through the Greenbelt. He is lost in the 21st century,