Closing Schools at This Stage of the Pandemic Is Wrong

January 5, 2022 Updated: January 5, 2022

Commentary

Ontario students must deal with another two weeks of their schools being closed. To be more precise, students will not be back in school for “at least” another two weeks. That’s politician-speak for indefinitely.

Premier Doug Ford says it wasn’t a hard decision. In fact, it took only 30 seconds for him to make it (after a five-hour cabinet meeting of course). Too bad Ford didn’t give this issue another 30 seconds of thought. If he had, he’d realize that he made the wrong decision—once again.

It’s well-known that school closures are harmful to students. Not only do students miss out on important academic learning, but they are deprived of the structure and routine that school provides. It’s impossible to overstate the real harm to mental health that students experience during extended school closures.

This is why a growing number of doctors and pediatricians are voicing their concerns about substituting remote learning for in-person classes. Hundreds of doctors recently signed an open letter to the Ontario government pleading with them to keep schools open. Sadly, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

The problem is that those who want schools closed are very vocal and they know how to get their concerns heard. It’s a classic example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.

Teachers’ unions have been at the forefront of spreading the myth that schools are unsafe. In addition, large numbers of teachers are using their social media accounts to attack the government for even thinking of sending them back to work in “unsafe” schools.

Mainstream media outlets also contribute to the fear narrative with their breathless reporting of record-high daily COVID-19 cases.

However, the reality is that while there is always an element of risk, schools are one of the safest places to be right now. Let’s not forget that COVID-19 vaccines are widely available. Every teacher who wants to be vaccinated has been vaccinated. Many, including myself, have even received booster shots. If these vaccines actually work, and I believe that they do, then vaccinated teachers should be able to go to work with confidence.

In addition, all students have also had the opportunity to be vaccinated. Any students who are ages 12 and up have had plenty of time to get two vaccine doses while students ages 5-11 have had the opportunity to receive at least one dose. Combine this with the fact that young people are the demographic group least likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 and we are on solid ground when we conclude that schools are safe.

What makes Ford’s school closure announcement even more maddening is that he is obviously caving to political pressure rather than listening to the science.

On Dec. 30, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, insisted that schools would open on Jan. 5. During that press conference, Dr. Moore explained that additional layers of protection such as improved ventilation and better masks would “keep schools safe and open for in-person learning.”

There is no medical information that dramatically changed between Dec. 30 and Jan. 3, when Ford announced that schools would remain closed. The only thing that did change is that school closure advocates flooded Ford’s government with messages expressing opposition to reopening schools. Sacrificing the education of children for the sake of appeasing people who will never vote for Ford is the height of absurdity.

The problem is that Ford remains beholden to the precautionary principle, the notion that it’s better to avoid even the perception of risk. But the fact is that there is nothing safe about keeping schools closed. Every day that schools remain closed is another day where the mental and physical health of many students declines further.

By all accounts, the Omicron variant is considerably less severe than earlier versions of COVID-19. Because of its extreme transmissibility, it’s likely that nearly everyone is going to contract this virus at some point.

It’s time for provinces to abandon their unofficial “COVID Zero” approach. This virus isn’t going away, and governments cannot protect us from this virus. We need to focus instead on allowing people to make their own health decisions.

Schools need to reopen and stay open. Students have sacrificed enough during this pandemic.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”