Joint statement on reopening schools
A joint statement from SickKids, CHEO, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre, McMaster Children’s Hospital and Unity Health Toronto.
We recognize parents, teachers and many others are anxious and concerned about ensuring a safe return to school. These are very uncertain times for everyone. This is one of the reasons we worked together to develop the Updated COVID-19: Guidance for School Reopening (pdf) document.
This was a collaborative effort, pulling together expertise from all of our hospitals; the document was shared with the community to provide a helpful resource leading up to the new school year.
We have always emphasized the importance of routine and structure that come with returning to school five days a week and we are happy that the Ministry of Education supports in-person school for elementary and middle school students.
We respect the wisdom and knowledge of many stakeholders, including parents, teachers, school boards and the Ministry of Education. Ontario schools and communities are very diverse and we understand that applying our guidance will require additional resources and innovative solutions that are very different from community to community, even school to school.
Our guidance statements stress the critical importance of an appropriate bundle of health and safety measures – with emphasis on hand hygiene, cleaning, physical distancing, class sizes, cohorting, masking for older students when distancing is not possible, and improved ventilation in classrooms – to mitigate risk for students, teachers and school staff, and families. We also stressed the importance of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the community, and screening everyone before they enter schools every day. Only a combined approach to all safety measures will maximize the mitigation of risk.
We encourage the Ministry of Education, all school boards and schools to consider our guidance as they implement the health and safety measures based on their local environments and COVID-19 circumstances, working closely with their local Medical Officers of Health.
As medical experts, we recognize that education authorities are the ones who are expert in the logistics and implementation details in schools.
As we continue to learn more about COVID-19 through new research and experiences from around the world, we will ensure that our guidance document evolves accordingly. Given that there are several unknowns, we emphasize that it will be critical to closely monitor the disease prevalence, with a view to determining if recommendations need to be further tailored for specific regions based on any increasing prevalence of COVID-19 in communities. And as the evidence changes, or in response to changes in disease prevalence, the plans for schools may also need to be adapted.
There is no ‘perfect’ solution to the unprecedented environment in which we are currently living, or to the uncertainties that exist for the future. We can say with certainty that what we all do to maintain a low rate of community transmission is critical to our ability to reopen schools and keep them open.
As leaders in child health, we remain committed to providing clinical care and guidance as our province and the world continue to navigate this pandemic.