Keep the schools open!

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Added: Wed, 12/02/2020 - 9:12pm
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Allyson Beauregard
Rédacteur / Managing Editor
editor@journalpontiac.com

On November 19, Québec Premier Francois Legault announced a slight
extension of schools’ winter break to gain control of the pandemic (see page 2). Schools and workplaces have the highest rates of transmission, he said; about 27% and 50%, respectively. 
Overall, Québec suffers the highest COVID case counts and death tolls in the country, with Ontario close behind. However, the situation in schools shows a much larger divide. Québec has almost three times (approx. 1900) more schools with at least one COVID diagnosis than Ontario (approx. 700). The cumulative number of students or staff infected in Québec’s schools totals around 11,000 compared to fewer than 4,000 in Ontario. Why such a difference?
Many protested schools reopening in the fall because of the increased opportunities for transmission, while others stressed the importance of keeping them open for the well-being of students (teachers are reporting increases in behavioral and academic issues among students, credited in part to the loss of school time – see page 7). There are a range of opinions on how education should be offered during the pandemic, but shouldn’t parents be the ones to decide if their children attend school or not, and be supported either way?
A number of factors can explain the discrepancy in school COVID cases between Québec and Ontario, but one could be each province’s back-to-school plans. Ontario gave parents the option to keep children home, with schools providing the materials for online learning. Québec made in-school attendance mandatory, except for those with certain health conditions, those who live with someone who is vulnerable, or students in Grade 9 and up in red alert zones who attend school every other day.
Québec parents can homeschool, but the process to do so can be intimidating and some veer away from it because they worry they can’t adequately teach their children with only minimal guidance from school boards.  
Epidemiologists (such as Colin Furness from the University of Toronto), other health professionals and teachers unions have said reduced class sizes and improved ventilation could go a long way in limiting transmission in schools. Reports have circulated in Québec about cramped classrooms and only about 20% of Québec teachers recently surveyed said they are regularly able to keep the mandated two-meter distance from students.
Improving ventilation and offering online learning to all students in Québec – consequently reducing class sizes - is the best way the government can fight the pandemic in schools. Struggling students would still get the in-person help they need and parents who want to keep their children home could do so, with the schools providing the learning materials. By working in collaboration, parents and teachers could determine the best approach for each student based on their individual circumstances.
Arming schools and parents with proven methods to reduce the chance of transmitting COVID-19 is a much better option than closing schools or classes every time the pandemic surges and consequently allowing the most vulnerable students to fall even farther behind. It’s time to do what’s best for everybody!