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Sep. 22, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Op-ed: School reopenings don’t need to be disastrous
MPP Wayne Gates.

Wayne Gates

Special to The Lake Report

Public policy must be driven by evidence-based decision-making and it should be coherent and consistent. Unfortunately, what we’re facing regarding school reopenings in the midst of this historic pandemic fails to meet that criteria.

Before Ontario’s courts could reopen they were required by the Ontario government to have upgraded air filtration to keep our lawyers and judges safe. Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce have yet to say that students are entitled to the same protections of the air they breathe.

Even before this pandemic hit our classrooms were already too crowded.

The plan before this pandemic left more kids in our classrooms and fewer adults in the school. It was ill-advised then, it’s downright dangerous now.

As schools began opening in the United States we have seen evidence of approaches that don’t work. In Florida alone over 9,000 kids contracted the virus when schools reopened.

Anyone following COVID-19 knows how contagious this virus is and how little it cares about best intentions. We need a new plan and a better plan before it’s too late. 

Firstly, we must ensure distancing is possible in our schools. That means reducing overcrowding and ensuring front-line teaching staff have the supports they need to help keep kids separated – especially the youngest students who don’t fully understand the dangers this virus poses to their loved ones.

Ventilation and air filtration systems must be upgraded to ensure air is properly filtered and that systems at least meet the standards that were required of our courts.

This will make sure that if a student is carrying the disease that air flows don’t do the deadly work of spreading the virus.

Lastly, we must work with educators to make a learn-from-home plan that is actually successful. Simply telling kids to log on and learn won’t work. We need a plan that gives resources to our kids and ensures they’re not losing out on education that will put them behind for years to come.

The funding for ventilation upgrades that has trickled down from the minister to our community means that across most boards in Niagara only a handful of schools will receive upgraded ventilation systems.

Even with access to additional surplus funds, our boards do not have the funding to hire enough teachers and education staff to meet the recommendations outlined in the Sick Kids Report.

Fifteen kids per class should mean 15 kids per class. Ford is failing to meet to these very established guidelines and our boards are left to pick up the pieces of his plans.

This pandemic will already create lasting effects in the lives of our young people and the future leaders of tomorrow. Poor learning structures and closed schools will cost them valuable learning time.

We cannot afford as a community to let our kids fall behind and make it that much harder for them to catch up. This means we need safe schools to prevent community transmissions and we need teachers to make sure they’re learning under this incredible stress.

Now is not the time to look the other way – we must solve this before it becomes a bigger problem that shuts down schools and communities.

We have sacrificed too much and come too far to roll the dice on our community’s health. This requires quick action and financial support.

Above all, it requires leadership. In such tumultuous times that leadership is desperately required from our premier.

* Wayne Gates is New Democrat MPP for the riding of Niagara Falls.

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