Days before students head back to school, Michael Mantha, MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin is frustrated that the Ford government still hasn’t developed an adequate plan to ensure everyone at school is protected against another COVID-19 surge. Mantha is asking, why is there such resistance?
Mantha has been inundated with questions from parents and educators worried about what they will face when students go back to school after Labour Day. Mantha said, “Some students in this province are returning to school next week and we still don’t have a satisfactory plan that will ensure everyone at school is safe.
Mantha said, mandatory masking in schools isn’t enough. There needs to be investments to ensure physical distancing and that can only be achieved with smaller class sizes.
Moreover, the plan to improve ventilation involves providing HEPA filters to classrooms. According to Ontario Public Health, “no direct scientific evidence was identified that demonstrates the effectiveness of portable air cleaners in reducing COVID-19 transmission” and that portable air cleaners should not be the only mitigating measure. Mantha has been calling for the government to fund upgrades to the internal ventilation systems in schools. He added, that’s not too much to ask, given that children under 12 aren’t eligible at this point to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.
Schools in Ontario have been closed to in-person learning since mid-April amid a surge in COVID cases. But months of remote learning has taken its toll, both on parents and the mental health of their children. Mantha has heard from angry parents who are burnt out trying to balance work with the mental health needs of their children. Parents have recounted stories about how their once happy and socially engaged children are deteriorating because they feel isolated and alone at home.
Mantha said, “We need to focus on students’ mental health and we need to get them back on a solid academic track and involved in extra-curricular activities to improve their mental and emotional well-being.”
He added. “We absolutely need additional mental health and special needs supports in every school, because parents, educators and communities know our children have suffered through the pandemic.”
Mantha said parents also need help. “Parents need paid sick days to allow them the option of staying home with their children without fear of losing their income.”
Until Ontario is fully shielded against COVID, Michael Mantha would like to see rapid tests and vaccinations required for staff at schools, for hospitals and for frontline workers. It’s what the medical experts are recommending. He’d also like to see a better vaccination plan for students who are eligible for the vaccine.
Because of the Ford government’s track record of cutting the education budget and increasing class sizes, Mantha is concerned about the safety of staff and students when they return to school in September.
He said, “We need a plan that will proactively protect families and allow parents to make decisions for the welfare of their children, not a Ford government plan that is ‘cross your fingers and hope for the best.’ We need a plan tomorrow that parents can follow.”
Medical experts expect COVID-19 cases to increase in the fall. Michael Mantha is calling on the provincial government to implement health and safety measures that include more testing, smaller class sizes and upgraded ventilation systems so that students can remain learning in school with their friends.
Michael Mantha said, “They need to return to school. They need to be provided with a safe environment. They need emotional stability and they need to be academically challenged to learn, to prosper and to grow.”