Health unit supports resuming in-person learning as school boards warn of last-minute closures


As a father of two, Dr. Colin Lee, understands the hesitation some parents have about in-person class resuming Monday, but with the “multiple layers of protection” in schools, he feels kids are safe to head back.


“What we do know is that these children have suffered negative consequences from not having in-person learning for so long, probably the longest in Canada,” the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s associate medical officer of health said.


Despite the COVID-19 surge, the health unit recommends children return to school next week, saying students’ mental well-being outweighs the risks posed by the virus.


“There are tremendous benefits to in-person learning,” Dr. Lee said.


Meanwhile, school boards are racing to prepare for children to return and alerting parents that classes could be cancelled with little notice because of virus-related staffing shortages.


“If we cannot safely operate our schools due to significant staff shortages, we will be required to make last-minute decisions to close schools,” a letter to parents from the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic board noted on Friday.


The school board’s letter warned parents that a decision to close schools based on staffing could happen on the same day and asked families to “be prepared” by having “emergency child care provisions in place.”


Dr. Lee said it’s likely most people would experience COVID-19 symptoms at some point.


“I think that given the highly contagious of Omicron, it’s reasonable to expect that unless you live in a bubble for the next number of months, you have a high likelihood of being exposed,” he concluded.


The province is allowing retired teachers to work more days with no financial penalties to help with the potential staffing gaps due to illness and isolation.

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