Students call for in-person learning even as COVID cases surge

·2 min read
Half Moon Bay Public School in Nepean is one of dozens of Ottawa schools that had COVID-19 outbreaks in the past couple months. The school closed for a time in December after there were 53 cases of the illness among students. The outbreak officially ended on Dec. 18, 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Half Moon Bay Public School in Nepean is one of dozens of Ottawa schools that had COVID-19 outbreaks in the past couple months. The school closed for a time in December after there were 53 cases of the illness among students. The outbreak officially ended on Dec. 18, 2021. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Some students say they fear a return to online learning as questions persist about whether the Ontario government will delay the return to the classroom amid a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant.

While Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and Nova Scotia are all delaying the return to the classroom by at least a week, with four days to go before the expected start date for many schools, the Ontario government has not made an announcement about the province's plans.

Earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford said a decision would be coming "in the next couple of days." Ontario has recently been breaking case records, though it's still uncertain what that announcement will be.

"It's really troubling, because with the past years, we've been struck with a lot of surprises and right now we don't really know what's going on," said Desmond Anuku, a Grade 12 student at Ridgemont High School who is also co-president of the student council and co-president of the Black Student's Union.

"We're a bit scared, because we don't want to go back…to online learning."

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Jazzlyn Abbott, a Grade 12 student at Valour School in Petawawa, Ont., has struggled with online learning and wants to hear a decision from the province.

"It definitely makes me anxious to hear some news back from the ministry and from public health," she said.

First to open, last to close

Since the start of the pandemic, health and education experts have been stressing the importance of keeping schools open as much as possible, even as dozens of elementary and high schools in Ottawa reported outbreaks this month alone.

Despite that messaging, Ontario students were kept out of the classroom longer than any of their peers across the country last school year.

Schools in Ottawa also closed a few days early before the holidays citing the surge in COVID cases across the region.

"Schools should be the first to open and the last to close," said Annie Kidder, executive director for the advocacy group People for Education.

People for Education
People for Education

She said while it may be worth pausing school reopening for a week, that should only be to focus on vaccinating as many eligible people, and especially children, as possible.

But she said the Ontario government needs to examine what it continues to keep open as cases surge and whether those should really take priority over schools.

"Do the grownups have to give up their bars, their restaurants, their sporting events, the gym, all of the things that they like doing, in order to serve the two million kids who are in schools better?" she said.

"I would argue, yes we do have to give up those things because this is our whole next generation now who are really, really being affected by this."

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