Editorial – Keeping students safe?

Last week, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced its plan for students returning to class this fall. Many of the safety measures from the last school year are back this year, but there are also many changes and loosening of restrictions. These changes beg the question is the government doing enough this school year to keep students safe?

While there are many restrictions still in place like mask wearing, distancing, and grouping of students, in the school yard students are allowed to mix freely. Assemblies and shared use of common facilities inside and outside of schools are allowed, as is the resumption of many extra-curricular activities. Those activities include outdoor and indoor contact sports like football, hockey, and basketball – all without masks.

Returning school life for students to as close to normal as possible is, and should remain a priority, but so should keeping schools as safe as possible. This is where the Ministry of Education is failing in its response to the pandemic again.

Unless there are religious or medical exemptions, students are required by law to be vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and meningitis just to name a few diseases. Yet COVID-19 vaccination is not required to attend school. Teachers and other support staff are not required to be vaccinated to work in schools. Vaccination against COVID-19 is fast becoming an employment requirement in the private sector to return to the office, but not at schools where unvaccinated children at the highest risk are located.

Considering that over 1.4 million children in Ontario are unable to be vaccinated because none are approved for those under 12 years old, it should stand to reason that those who work with unvaccinated students should be required to be vaccinated, to protect those who cannot be. Furthermore, staff and students age 12 and older are not required to disclose if they have been vaccinated, which is wrong.

When asked by reporters last week why vaccine status and vaccinations are not mandatory in schools, Education Minister Stephen Lecce sidestepped the question. Cases of the Delta-variant of COVID-19 are already on the rise in Ontario and the school year has not even begun. As seen in other areas of North America, the Delta-variant is infecting more-and-more young people with tragic consequences.

Instead of worrying about the politics of the situation, government and education leaders should remember that child safety is a vital part of education, and act accordingly before it is too late.

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