I have to commend the public health offices of Ontario for a decent job on Covid-19 information. The level of detail is sufficient for understanding of the situation, and an effort was made to track the causes. Take a look for yourself: Ontario Covid-19 statistics
So are there any essential conclusions that can be made from these numbers? Let's take a look. First I'm looking at the chart "Percentage of tests that were positive, by age group", with a clear spike around mid January, shortly before the second lockdown. Digging further into the numbers, we see, for the percentage of positive of all tests by age group:
Under 13: 17.7%
14 - 17: 15.1%
18 - 24: 9.7%
Above 25: 6.7% and below
From these numbers it can be deduced with certain probability (but not proven because the coverage of tests has been in the range of 0.005 of the population, not enough for a confident statement - why btw?) that the incidence of the infection in the age groups involved in on-site education, schools or colleges, at the peak was 2 to 3 times higher than in the rest of the population. And after on-site classes were suspended, voila: one gets almost 50% reduction in new cases over two weeks of the lockdown (total new cases daily graph).
So what conclusions can be made from these numbers? And are they the same as heard time and again from the news and experts?
I recall an expert commenting that there was no evidence that on-site education setting was contributing to the spread. Is it not the evidence though possibly, not yet the proof?
Can we expect, and trust experts to state their best understanding and knowledge of the situation, or only the truth of the day coming from the top? In some countries schools never closed and it did not result in an explosive development of the epidemics. Why?
Are we using intelligent, science-based approach to control the epidemics at the sources of most likely spread with intelligent, effective and targeted policies? Or a shotgun approach?
After three months of distance learning that saw low student participation and put parents in the impossible position of teaching their kids while trying to work from home, the Province of Ontario is now proposing three options for September: return of all students to daily school with careful health hygiene, 100% distance learning, or a hybrid that divides all students into two cohorts that attend on alternate days/weeks. While it looks like 100% distance learning is off the table unless there's a big surge of Covid-19 cases or a local outbreak, the hybrid model seems to be the one being promoted by the Province. I believe this would be disastrous for both education and the economy.
There's no way to get workplaces up and running on a full-time basis if parents cannot do their work without having to take care of their children at the same time. A part-time return to school would put working parents, including educators, in a very compromising position, having to either watch their children for half of the work week while trying to do their jobs or scramble to find daycare at the same time as thousands of other parents. Such a plan would not be safer than full-time school for students, as many of these children would be in daycares with students from multiple schools, presenting a greater health risk than having students attend one facility with the same children all week.
The poorest families with the most precarious employment would be hardest hit by a part-time school schedule, having to pay for daycare or make the choice of risking losing their jobs in order to take care of their kids. We know that a learning model that is exclusively distance-learning from home is bad for student engagement, socialization, and education outcomes. We also know that having everyone return to school in a safe way than includes the necessary social distancing is a challenge without reducing class sizes and ensuring there is additional classroom space in schools. However, this can be done without substantial new hiring or budgetary increases.
We need to accept a few conditions in order to make daily return to school possible. I propose, for staffing reasons, that non-classroom teachers (librarians, planning time teachers, French as a second language teachers, and a proportion of special education teaching staff) become regular classroom teachers throughout the remainder of the pandemic, so that class sizes can be reduced. While this may reduce the number of special education teachers available to provide segregated classes for special needs students, we were moving to a more inclusive special education model and classroom teachers will be better positioned to support special needs students with smaller class sizes.
In order to have this kind of schedule, certain curriculum will have to be provided online, such as FSL. However, it would protect on-site learning for the core curricula of literacy, numeracy, science, and even geography and history (Social Studies). Phys. Ed would be taught within the classroom or outside where possible. This schedule requires that teachers take their planning time at home, as teachers would not be getting their own planning time coverage from non-classroom planning time teachers during the school day. The planning time and FSL teachers would teach regular classes.
This schedule would shorten the school day, not only because of the planning time teachers would be taking at home, but also because this shorter school day eliminates the need for an afternoon recess, and for safety reasons, the lunch hour should be shortened, probably to 30 or 40 minutes. Unstructured periods like recess provide too much opportunity for breaking social distancing guidelines. Reducing recess time doesn’t impact instructional time. Shorter recesses could be taken in the regular classroom. Teachers could take their classes outside as long as classes don’t combine.
Another sticking point for having all students in elementary schools at the same time is lack of space for social distancing, especially if class sizes are capped at an arbitrary number of, say, 15. If non-classroom teachers’ rooms are freed up (libraries, gyms, conference rooms, etc.), there will be additional spaces available for classes. There should not be an arbitrary class size cap, but rather a formula of students to square footage, so that social distancing is maintained no matter the class size. For example, a class of 28 students could easily be accommodated in a library or gym. Most elementary schools would be able to safely social distance all of their students if all of their available school spaces were used and non-classroom teachers took regular classes. In exceptional circumstances, some classes would have to be relocated to other schools, board-owned facilities, or leased facilities (adult-learning centres, high schools, banquet halls or sports facilities that cannot open until the final phase of reopening, etc.).
School boards are able to implement such measures if they are given some basic criteria to follow, and they can do this without increasing budgets, as long as there is flexibility in allocations. If parents were shown such a plan and assured that social distancing and the necessary cleaning and safety measures will be taken, most students would return to school on a full-time basis, albeit with a shorter school day.
It's also advisable for staffing purposes to get a short-term commitment from parents as to whether or not they intend to send their children to school, for a time frame of say 2-3 months at a time. That way schools will have a firm basis upon which to divide students and staff classes. It’s only fair to ask this commitment from parents for budgeting purposes.
Such a plan would be sustainable if the pandemic continued for many months or even years. It could be flexible and adjusted for periods of distance learning if there are surges or local outbreaks of Covid-19. It's important to have a clear process for return to school that maximizes safety while returning as many students to school on a daily basis as possible, so that students are not robbed of opportunities and families are not put under unnecessary additional stress, financial or otherwise.
All over Ontario, people have been quarantined for weeks in order to flatten the curve and save lives, for the majority of places it has been working. Health officials are now saying that some places in Ontario have reached their peak and the daily number of cases are slowly starting to decline. However, long-term care homes are still at high risk and are being closely monitored to prevent a wide-scale outbreak.
READ MORE AT
All publicly-funded schools in Ontario will remain closed until at least May 31 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced.
Ontario schools were initially closed for two weeks following March Break in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. The government then extended the closure through at least May 4, though Premier Doug Ford later said that it was unrealistic to think that children would be able to return to classes by that point.
Speaking at Queen’s Park on Sunday afternoon, Lecce said that the decision to extend the closure through the end of May was based on “expert advice” from public health officials.
He said that “if there is a way to save some of the school year at the back end,” his government would consider it but not at the expense of safety.
“The extension will provide the province more time, sufficient time to review the data and the modelling so that we can make the best decision based on the best medical advice and ensure that ultimately students remain safe and staff remain safe should they return to school at some point his year or at any point beyond,” he said.
While a number of other provinces have announced the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the year, Ontario has so far refused to do the same though it has worked to ramp up its online learning program and has promised that students will receive final grades, regardless of whether schools reopen.
On Sunday, Lecce said that he “appreciates full well” that parents, educators and students al want a “greater degree of certainty” and hopes to provide a “final update” with respect to this school year before May 31.
He said that in the meantime the province will also provide “some greater” context with regards to the benchmarks that need to be hit to reopen schools when it releases its economic recovery plan sometime this week.
“I think currently the advice from the chief medical officer of health is that we are not there today. We need more time we need to see a reduced risk to young people and we have accepted that advice as we always have and given ourselves another month of time,” he said.
All remaining PA days cancelled
Since ordering the closuring the closure of all schools last month, the province has worked to ramp up its online learning program and recently struck a deal with Apple to distribute thousands of iPads to students from low-income families.
Lecce said that at this point there are no plans to extend the school year, as officials are confident that adequate instruction is being delivered through the online learning program.
He did, however, say that all remaining professional activity (PA) days and examination days will be cancelled to maximize instruction time.
The province is also working to introduce a more robust summer learning program to help interested students “mitigate from learning loss,” Lecce said.
As for the eventual resumption of classes, whenever that may be, Lecce said that his government will take an open-mided approach to ensuring safety.
“If students return at some point later this year my commitment is to come back here and communicate to you how I will ensure every parent in this province that we can ensure the safety of your child. If it involves changing how classrooms are structured or designed we will look at that. We have a duty and responsibility to be open to every idea to achieve safety,” he said.
WATCH MY YOUTUBE VIDEO
Canadians won’t be able to return to life as they knew it before the novel coronavirus pandemic until a vaccine is available, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
“Normality as it was before will not come back full-on until we get a vaccine for this… That will be a very long way off,” the prime minister said during his daily news conference on Canada’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tell a friend