Over 400 Ontario doctors criticize provincial decision to keep schools closed until fall
Doctors want peer review of modelling that informed decision on school closures
More than 400 doctors have sent a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford that criticizes his decision to keep schools closed to in-person learning this academic year, saying he is prioritizing industry over children.
In the June 4 letter, the doctors call for a peer review of the modelling that informed the decision to keep schools closed until September, a return to in-person learning for students registered for summer school and a commitment to restore "uninterrupted" in-person schooling in September.
The letter was sent to Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Health Minister Christine Elliott on Wednesday.
The doctors say the government ignored the advice they gave before the province made a decision on school closures. Ford said last week that students won't return to in-class learning before September and virtual learning would continue until the end of the academic year.
"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," the doctors say in 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," the doctors add.
"The truth is that we can have both; schools can open and so can industry. Real life data tells us that schools do not compromise communities and therefore there is no reason to believe that school re- opening would delay the provincial plan to re-open industry."
The doctors say the school closures have caused a "parallel crisis" to the COVID-19 pandemic and has had a negative effect on the mental health and well-being of children.
"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. 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," the doctors say.
Ontario is in a much different position now than it was in early April, the doctor add.
"Our vaccine roll-out 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," they say.
The doctors note that most COVID-19 infections in schools have come from communities instead of from transmission in schools and the effect of school reopening on case numbers have been shown to be relatively small.
Even with a fourth variant of concern, the B.1.617.2, the doctors say there is no data to suggest this variant is more virulent in children, youth and adults.
The doctors conclude: "We have seen your government reconsider earlier decisions in their pandemic response plan. It is not too late to take a stance in support of Ontario's children and youth and set into motion their recovery process."
Spokespeople for Ford, Lecce and Elliott did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.
BREAKING: 400+ Ontario doctors want a peer review of the science behind the Ford government’s decision to keep schools closed <a href="https://t.co/sgAPFXoEG6">pic.twitter.com/sgAPFXoEG6</a>—@trevorjdunn