A dozen pediatric organizations including SickKids are urging the Ontario government to make reopening schools a priority, citing a “crisis in children’s mental health” as a result of COVID-19 pandemic closures.
“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,” claimed the letter.
“We are witnessing a crisis in children’s mental health with a dramatic increase in the 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.”
Other signatories to the open letter include the Canadian Pediatric Society, the Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario, Ottawa Community Pediatrician Network, Children First Canada, McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Coalition for Kids and several other similar groups.
According to the letter, the signatories have three requests: for schools to reopen “immediately”, for summer school learning to take place in-person and for schools to resume regular scheduling in September.
“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,” reads the open letter.
Recently, the Ontario government announced that it would continue forcing kids to learn virtually until a “consensus” is reached with teachers unions and public health advisors.
“On the one hand, we have some doctors saying they want to open the schools. On the other hand, we have the teachers’ unions saying we can’t do that right now,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week.
“We need public health doctors, teachers and labour partners to agree on the best path forward … And we simply don’t have that right now.”
This is not the first time that children’s health specialists have raised the alarm about the growing mental health crisis faced by the province’s youth.
In April, the Ottawa Community Pediatricians Network warned that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns were causing more and more children to report serious mental health issues.