The impact of school closures and the resulting social isolation on the health and well‐being of children and youth has become impossible to ignore. Getting Ontario’s students back into the classroom, with appropriate safety measures in place, for the remainder of this school year and for summer learning must be a priority now. Prioritizing school re‐opening means putting the necessary resources in place to safeguard classrooms, including public health capacity for contact tracing, in conjunction with ongoing community measures.
We are witnessing a crisis in children’s mental health with a dramatic increase in utilization of acute mental health services. Schools play an essential role in the recovery process. In‐person school provides students with routine and structure, accountability, socialization and recognition of abuse and neglect. For many children, school is where they receive services and supports to meet developmental milestones. In‐person attendance is linked to important long‐term health and well‐ being outcomes and the benefits are particularly apparent in those who are marginalized or have disappeared from the school system.
With the decrease in COVID‐19 hospitalizations in Ontario by over 50%, and with more than 50% of adults at least partially vaccinated, the decision to re‐open schools at this time will have minimal, if any, impact on the health care system. As our vaccine roll out continues, teachers, education workers, school staff and parents are all eligible, providing increased reassurance for those adults who play a critical role in our education system.
Children and youth have suffered immeasurably over the course of the pandemic. It is time to prioritize their health and well‐being. As members of the medical community and key pediatric advisory groups, we raise our voices TOGETHER and call for the following:
- schools to re‐open immediately – every day counts
- summer school learning to occur in‐person
- schools to resume in September with routine scheduling – we have time to plan
The benefits of a few weeks in classroom cannot be overstated. Our front‐line educators are in a position trecognize signs of abuse and to support children struggling with mental health issues. The ability to re‐engage withbclassmates and participate in normal routines will allow children to successfully transition into summer programming and the next academic year, including new school settings for those entering middle‐school, high school and post‐secondary institutions.