By Teresa Pierre, Ph.D.
Parents As First Educators (PAFE)
There have been a variety of reactions to the Ontario Ministry of Education’s back to school plan, both positive and negative.
Some say the plan is too strict, others that it’s too lenient.
To many, it’s a great relief that Ontario is committing to in-person learning for children when school returns next week, because last April, May and June, when paediatric experts were urging Ontario to re-open schools, they remained closed.
When considered in the context of the extremely cautious mindset that has dominated Ontario’s response to COVID-19, and how difficult that response has made life for Ontario’s children, the commitment to in-class learning, and the relative return to normalcy that may bring, is a welcome prospect.
Then again, there certainly have been other influences at play in the long lockdown of Ontario schools, and some of them would seem to have had more to do with conflict of interest than with caution.
As encouraging as a return to class is, there remains much to be concerned about the plan.
While it no longer requires students to wear masks outside, Ontario’s plan will require students to wear masks indoors, with the exception of JK and SK students.
The Toronto District School Board has already gone against the recommendations and mandated masks for their JKs and SKs. Other boards may follow suit.
Is heavy masking for students really necessary? In British Columbia, masks have never been mandatory for Kindergarten to Grade 3 students, and their schools’ experience has been held up as an example to be emulated by paediatricians across Canada.
For some time, the data has been clear that COVID-19 poses a less serious threat to children than influenza does, and the hospitalization figures confirm this. Many experts say that the harms suffered by children through restrictions outweigh any good they have achieved.
Another area of concern is whether children will be treated equally or differently based on their COVID-19 vaccine status.
The return to school plan doesn’t mandate vaccines for students or staff, and Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore has insisted that students, whether vaccinated or not, will be treated equally within the classroom setting.
However, the Ministry of Health has acknowledged that vaccinated and unvaccinated students will be treated differently in terms of outbreak management.
While the details aren’t yet clear and will be dependent on local health authorities, it appears that in the event of COVID infections, or exposure to infected people, unvaccinated students will undergo a different protocol than vaccinated students.
This will almost certainly keep vaccinated students away from the classroom for long periods of time, and will disrupt their schooling.
It’s easy to foresee cases where a healthy, uninfected and unvaccinated child will be forced to quarantine at home after being exposed to a vaccinated child who has tested positive for COVID-19.
As governments and some businesses push for the implementation of COVID passports and the medical segregation of society that they would bring, it’s very likely that a similar division will occur in Ontario’s schools.
By far the most troubling aspect of Ontario’s school return plan is its introduction of “School-Focussed Vaccination Clinics”.
These clinics are to be located on school property, or as close to the schools as possible, and will serve, in the words of the Health Ministry, to “promote vaccination uptake” in students 12 and over.
Since, in Ontario, there is no age limit to consent for medical procedures, students as young as 12 will be able to provide their own consent to receive the COVID vaccines, without their parents being informed.
It’s not hard to imagine Ontario students being unduly coerced into receiving the COVID vaccines, perhaps even against the wishes of their parents, through the presence of these clinics on school grounds, which will be permitted to operate before, during or after school hours.
It’s also worth recalling that when Premier Doug Ford was running for the PC party leadership, he was aghast when pointing out that Ontario children under 16 need letters of consent to go on school field trips, yet they can undergo abortions without their parents being informed.
It would seem that now that he’s been elected to lead the province, Ford is more comfortable with the idea of young children giving their own consent for medical interventions without their parents’ input.
After everything they’ve lost because of society’s response to COVID-19, our children deserve a return to normalcy as soon as possible.
A successful return to the classroom next week can play a huge part in that process, but we’ll have to watch carefully to ensure that unnecessary restrictions don’t linger, that children aren’t treated differently based on vaccination status, and that students aren’t subjected to undue coercion by the campus vaccine clinics.
Parents must insist on remaining fully informed on all aspects of classroom activities, and they must remain the primary decision makers in the process of fully informed consent that attends any medical decision involving their children.
Teresa Pierre, Ph.D.
Your donation to Parents As First Educators (PAFE) helps us fight for parental rights!
Please make a donation today by clicking here.