Transcript: School's Out For Summer (and COVID-19) | Jun 04, 2021

Nam sits inside a room with blue walls and a bookcase in the background. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length straight brown hair. She's wearing glasses and a blue blazer over a blue shirt.

A caption on screen reads "School's out for Summer (and COVID-19). Nam Kiwanuka, @namshine, @theagenda."

Nam says SINCE MID-APRIL IN ONTARIO, STUDENTS FROM KINDERGARTEN TO GRADE 12 HAVE BEEN LEARNING ONLINE ONLY. IF THEY SHOULD RETURN BACK TO THE CLASSROOM, HAS BEEN HOTLY DEBATED ON ALL SIDES THROUGHOUT THE THIRD WAVE OF COVID-19. WE HEARD FINALLY THIS WEEK THAT KIDS WILL FINISH THE SCHOOL YEAR LEARNING FROM HOME, NOT BACK IN PERSON. WITH US NOW FOR THE DETAILS, BOTH IN ONTARIO'S CAPITAL CITY: CAROLINE ALPHONSO, EDUCATION REPORTER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL...

Caroline is in her thirties, with long wavy brown hair. She's wearing a blue blouse.

Nam continues AND KRISTIN RUSHOWY, QUEEN'S PARK REPORTER, WITH A FOCUS ON EDUCATION, AT THE TORONTO STAR...

Kristin is in her fifties, with long auburn hair. She's wearing glasses and a patterned brown blouse.

Nam continues WELCOME BACK TO YOU BOTH.

Caroline says THANKS FOR HAVING US.

Kristin says HI. THANKS FOR HAVING US.

Nam says SO THIS WAS THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT A LOT OF PARENTS HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR SINCE APRIL. I WANTED TO START OUR DISCUSSION FIRST BY SHOWING THE PREMIER'S ANNOUNCEMENT ON SCHOOLS FROM THIS PAST WEDNESDAY.

A clip plays on screen with the caption "June 2, 2021."
In the clip, Premier Ford gives an official statement.

He says SO TODAY I HAVE TO ANNOUNCE THAT SCHOOLS WILL NOT BE RETURNING FOR IN CLASS LEARNING UNTIL THE FALL. I KNOW THIS IS DIFFICULT, VERY DIFFICULT NEWS. IT WAS A HARD CHOICE TO MAKE. BUT I WILL NOT, AND I REPEAT, I WILL NOT TAKE UNNECESSARY RISKS WITH OUR CHILDREN RIGHT NOW. THE FACT IS, WE'RE FIGHTING A THIRD WAVE, DRIVEN BY VARIANTS. AND UNLIKE THE ORIGINAL STRAINS, WE KNOW THAT SOME OF THE VARIANTS WE ARE FIGHTING RIGHT NOW ARE MORE DANGEROUS FOR CHILDREN.

The clip ends.

Nam says I WANTED TO GET BOTH OF YOUR REACTIONS FROM THE PREMIER'S ANNOUNCEMENT. CAROLINE, I'LL START WITH YOU FIRST.

The caption changes to "Caroline Alphonso. The Globe and Mail."

Caroline says I THINK, YOU KNOW, EVERY PARENT ACROSS THIS PROVINCE HAS BEEN WAITING FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT. KIDS HAVE BEEN HOME SINCE MID-APRIL. I SPEAK NOT ONLY AS THE EDUCATION REPORTER BUT AS A PARENT MYSELF. I HAVE TWO CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN LEARNING ONLINE SINCE APRIL. YOU KNOW, FOR SOME KIDS, IT'S BEEN FINE. THEY DON'T MIND IT. BUT I'VE HEARD FROM MANY, MANY PARENTS THAT IT'S BEEN REALLY DIFFICULT FOR CHILDREN TO BE AT HOME, TO BE LEARNING ONLINE EVERY DAY. AND I THINK, YOU KNOW, THERE WAS THIS HOPE AMONG MANY THAT KIDS COULD RETURN TO THE CLASSROOM, AS THEY HAVE IN MOST OTHER PROVINCES, COULD RETURN TO THE CLASSROOM FOR THE MONTH OF JUNE. NOT FOR REALLY THE ACADEMIC SIDE, BUT MORE FOR THE SOCIAL ASPECT OF THINGS. I KNOW MY KIDS ARE DYING TO SEE THEIR FRIENDS AND DYING TO SEE THEIR TEACHERS, AND I THINK THERE WAS THIS ANTICIPATION THAT AT LEAST REGIONALLY THAT WOULD HAPPEN, THAT KIDS IN THUNDER BAY AND KINGSTON AND OTTAWA, OUTSIDE OF THE GTA, COULD BE BACK IN SCHOOL. SO I THINK THERE WAS SOME DISAPPOINTMENT THERE.

Nam says WE'RE GOING TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE REASONS WHY THE GOVERNMENT SAYS THEY MADE THE DECISION THAT THEY MADE. BUT A LOT OF PEOPLE... THERE'S BEEN, YOU KNOW, DISCUSSION AROUND, IT'S ONLY A FEW WEEKS. IT'S NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL. KRISTIN, WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE PREMIER'S ANNOUNCEMENT THAT CHILDREN WILL NOT BE RETURNING TO IN-PERSON LEARNING?

The caption changes to "Kristin Rushowy. Toronto Star."

Kristin says I THINK SOME PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED. I MEAN, LAST WEEK WE HAD THE PREMIER ASK FOR CONSENSUS. HE REACHED OUT TO PUBLIC HEALTH UNITS, HE REACHED OUT TO TEACHER UNIONS. HE HEARD FROM ALL OF THEM. HE HEARD FROM EXPERTS. HE HEARD FROM SICK KIDS HOSPITAL, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF EASTERN ONTARIO, THE CANADIAN PEDIATRIC SOCIETY. EVERYBODY SAID, YOU KNOW WHAT? WE SUPPORT REOPENING. REGIONALLY, PROBABLY, GIVEN, YOU KNOW, NUMBERS IN PLACES LIKE KINGSTON AND THUNDER BAY, AS CAROLINE MENTIONED. SO THERE WAS A BROAD CONSENSUS. HE DID HAVE SUPPORT. AND THEN AT THE END OF THE DAY THERE WERE ALSO WHISPERS IN HIS EAR FROM BUSINESS. HE WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE ECONOMY. HE WAS WORRIED ABOUT THE VARIANTS. HE HEARD FROM HOSPITAL CEOS WHO SAID NUMBERS ARE COMING DOWN BUT ICUS ARE STILL UNDER PRESSURE AND WE'RE WORRIED IF THERE IS AN INCREASE IN CASES, WE MIGHT BE SWAMPED AGAIN. THERE WAS PREDICTED A 6 TO 11 PERCENT INCREASE IN CASES SHOULD ALL KIDS RETURN TO SCHOOL. THEY FELT IT WAS MANAGEABLE. BUT IT WAS JUST A RISK THE PREMIER SAID HE DIDN'T WANT TO TAKE AND HE DIDN'T WANT TO RISK REOPENING THIS SUMMER.

Nam says YOU MENTIONED THE LETTER THAT THE PREMIER SENT I THINK IT WAS TWO WEEKS AGO, AND MYSELF WITH MY CHILDREN, I'VE BEEN TELLING THEM THAT THEY'RE NOT GOING BACK TO SCHOOL SINCE APRIL. I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO DISAPPOINT THEM. IT'S BETTER... IN MY MIND IT'S BETTER FOR THEM TO BE SURPRISED. CAROLINE, YOU KNOW, DR. DAVID WILLIAMS, THE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, THE SCIENCE TABLE, AND MANY OTHERS, AS KRISTIN HAS MENTIONED, THEY SUPPORTED A REOPENING ON A REGIONAL BASIS. WHY IS THE GOVERNMENT CHOOSING A DIFFERENT PATH?

The caption changes to "Caroline Alphonso, @calphonso."

Caroline says YES, YOU'RE RIGHT, YOU KNOW, IT'S SURPRISING THAT SO MANY PEOPLE, THE BROAD CONSENSUS FOR A REGIONAL OPENING HAPPENED EVEN WITH THE ONTARIO SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS' FEDERATION. THE PRESIDENT THERE SAID A REGIONAL OPENING. YOU KNOW, THE PREMIER'S MESSAGE WAS, HE SENT THIS LETTER OUT TO GET A CONSENSUS. HE GOT A CONSENSUS AROUND A REGIONAL OPENING. BUT HE SAID THERE WERE NO GUARANTEES THAT, YOU KNOW, WE WOULDN'T SEE AN INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF CASES BY I THINK HE SAID MANY, MANY THOUSANDS OR THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS. SO THAT'S WHY THEY TOOK A DIFFERENT PATH. YOU KNOW, THERE'S WHISPERS THAT THE PREMIER WANTS THE ECONOMY TO OPEN OR GO INTO STAGE ONE HERE. AND SO, YOU KNOW, THREE WEEKS OF SCHOOL. SOME PEOPLE THINK, DOES IT MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF KIDS TO BE HOME LEARNING? MAYBE A SEPTEMBER START WOULD BE BETTER. YOU KNOW, THEY CAN RETURN TO SOMEWHAT HOPEFULLY A NORMAL SCHOOL YEAR. SO THAT'S THE PATH THAT THEY DECIDED TO CHOOSE.

Nam says IT JUST KIND OF FEELS LIKE DEJA VU, WE'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE. WE HEARD THE SAME STORY LAST MAY WHEN WE HEARD THAT SCHOOLS WERE GOING TO BE CLOSED INDEFINITELY SO WE COULD GET READY FOR SEPTEMBER. KRISTIN, IN THAT SAME PRESS CONFERENCE, PREMIER FORD, HIS GOVERNMENT WOULD USE THIS EXTRA TIME TO GET STUDENTS AND TEACHERS VACCINATED AND ALSO TO INVEST IN VENTILATION IN SCHOOLS. TO WHAT EXTENT WERE THEY DOING THAT BEFORE?

The caption changes to "Kristin Rushowy, @krushowy."

Kristin says CERTAINLY THERE'S BEEN MONEY PROVIDED TO SCHOOL BOARDS AND THERE WAS LAST SUMMER TO IMPROVE THINGS LIKE VENTILATION AND THINGS LIKE THAT AND UPGRADE WINDOWS. HE SAID, LOOK, THERE ARE LIMITERS ON MY WINDOW. I WANT EVEN OPEN THEM MORE THAN A COUPLE OF INCHES. THE BOARDS DID DO WHAT THEY COULD OVER THE SUMMER. THE TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD SAID CLEARLY WE HAVE THE MONEY FOR THE VENTILATION BUT IN ORDER TO PROCURE IT AND GET IT IN PLACE, THIS TAKES MONTHS. THEY DID PORTABLE AIR FILTERS AND THINGS LIKE THAT. THE FEDERAL AND PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE PONIED UP MORE MONEY THIS FALL TO IMPROVE VENTILATION. WE SHOULD SEE MORE WORK ON THAT OVER THIS SUMMER. I THINK WE'RE ALSO EXPECTING TO SEE COHORTING. THE PROVINCE HAS TALKED ABOUT THAT. SO KEEP KIDS WITHIN A LIMITED GROUP AND LIMITING THEIR CONTACTS. I THINK PEEL ALSO SEE PHYSICAL DISTANCING AND THEN MASKING WHEN THEY RETURN IN THE FALL.

Nam says DURING THE PRESS CONFERENCE, THE PREMIER SAID THAT HE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH A YOUNG ONTARIAN, AND THIS YOUNG MAN WANTED TO HAVE OUTDOOR GRADUATION CEREMONIES. CAROLINE, HOW WERE SCHOOL BOARDS REACTING TO THE PREMIER SUGGESTING THAT BOARDS HAVE OUTDOOR CEREMONIES?

Caroline says I THINK THERE WAS A LOT OF FRUSTRATION WHEN SCHOOL BOARDS HEARD ABOUT THIS. MANY OF THEM, YOU KNOW, HAVE BEEN CHANGING TACTICS ALL ALONG, YOU KNOW. IF THE GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES SOMETHING, THEY HAVE TO REJIG THEIR SCHOOL CALENDARS, THEY HAVE TO REJIG COHORTS, THINGS LIKE THAT. SO THIS IS SORT OF FOR THEM ONE MORE THING TO HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHEN WE'RE SO CLOSE TO THE END OF THE YEAR. AND YOU KNOW, NAM, MANY SCHOOL BOARDS HAD ALREADY PLANNED VIRTUAL GRADUATION CEREMONIES, AS THEY HAD LAST SPRING. AND SO THE PLAN WAS IN THE WORKS. THEY HAD ENGAGED STUDENTS. THEY HAD ENGAGED TEACHERS IN THAT. AND I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF FRUSTRATION THAT, YOU KNOW, HOW DO WE DO THAT? HOW DO WE DO THAT WHEN WE HAVE RESTRICTIONS IN PLACE ON HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN GATHER OUTSIDE? WHAT IF THE WEATHER CHANGES AND WE HAVE A GRADUATION CEREMONY OUTSIDE? WHAT DO WE DO IN THAT CASE? HOW MANY PEOPLE CAN WE INVITE? SO MY SENSE IS THAT, YOU KNOW, THERE WAS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE THAMES VALLEY SCHOOL BOARD IN LONDON, ONTARIO, YESTERDAY THAT SAID, WE ARE GOING TO GO AHEAD WITH OUR VIRTUAL GRADUATION CEREMONIES, AND WE WILL WAIT FOR DIRECTION FROM THE GOVERNMENT ON HOW TO HOLD THESE IN-PERSON OUTDOOR GRADUATION CEREMONIES. SO I THINK THE SENTIMENT RIGHT NOW IS LIKE, WE'RE GOING TO GO AHEAD AND WE'LL SEE WHAT THE GOVERNMENT DECIDES. WE DON'T REALLY HAVE THAT MUCH TIME TO DO IT IN, SO WHO KNOWS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN THERE? IS.

Nam says YET, IT SEEMS KIND OF CONFUSING BECAUSE WE STILL HAVE OUTDOOR RESTRICTIONS. KRISTIN, NOT TO PUT YOU ON THE SPOT AT ALL, BUT THE TORONTO STAR, THE STAR EDITORIAL BOARD, HAD THIS TO SAY IN THE TORONTO STAR...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Shops over schools?" The quote reads "Ford should just level with students: because of all his previous poor choices, he had to weigh their lives and futures against those of restaurants, bars and small businesses and they didn't come out on top.
Every parent knows the fastest way to lose a child's trust is to mislead them. Perhaps Ford is banking on voters being more lenient. Or hoping that after a summer of patios they won't remember the price students paid."
Quoted from Star Editorial Board, Toronto Star. June 2, 2021.

Nam says KRISTIN, IS THE GOVERNMENT PUTTING THE ECONOMY AHEAD OF SCHOOLS?

Kristin says I THINK WHAT THE PREMIER DID WAS SORT OF WEIGH WHAT WAS MORE IMPORTANT, AND I THINK WHAT THEY WERE HEARING CERTAINLY IN POLLING... I MEAN, COLIN D'MELLO AT CTV NEWS WAS REPORTING ON POLLING THAT SHOWED THERE WASN'T A HUGE AMOUNT OF SUPPORT FOR REOPENING SCHOOLS IF IT WAS GOING TO DELAY REOPENING THE ECONOMY. SO THEY DIDN'T EVEN... VOTERS DIDN'T EVEN APPROVE A WEEK'S DELAY. SO I THINK THE PREMIER WEIGHED THAT AGAINST THE THREAT OF THE VARIANT, MORE CASES, SLOWING DOWN THE ECONOMY. PEOPLE NOT HAVING A GOOD SUMMER, RIGHT? EVERYONE'S PANDEMIC WEARY. KIDS ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING TO CAMP. PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO HAVING MAYBE LESS RESTRICTIONS THIS SUMMER. SO, YES, IT WAS A POLITICAL DECISION, AND I THINK TOO, YOU KNOW, THEY LOOKED AT THE NUMBERS AND IN TERMS OF ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PARENTS, I THINK IT WAS ABOUT 15 percent OF THE POPULATION AND THEY SAID, YES, WHILE CHILDREN'S MENTAL HEALTH IS IMPORTANT, EVERYBODY'S MENTAL HEALTH IS IMPORTANT AND EVERYBODY'S MENTAL HEALTH IS SERVED BY OPENING UP THE ECONOMY AND RETURNING TO AS NORMAL AS WE CAN AS SOON AS WE CAN.

Nam says YOU KNOW, ONTARIO HAS BEEN CLOSED THE LONGEST FOR SCHOOLS. OTHER PROVINCES HAVE BEEN ABLE TO KEEP THEIR SCHOOLS OPEN. AND ONE OF THE ARGUMENTS THAT THE PREMIER MADE AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE IS BECAUSE THAT WE ARE A BIG PROVINCE... CAROLINE, IN YOUR VIEW, WHY HAVE MOST OTHER PROVINCES BEEN ABLE TO KEEP THEIR SCHOOLS OPEN?

Caroline says I THINK IT'S BEEN A PRIORITY TO KEEP SCHOOLS OPEN. YOU KNOW, WE'VE HEARD THROUGH THIS ENTIRE PANDEMIC, THE SENTIMENT THAT SCHOOLS SHOULD BE THE FIRST TO OPEN, THE LAST TO CLOSE. AND OTHER PROVINCES HAVE DONE THAT. YOU KNOW, EVEN ALBERTA, THEY CLOSED THEIR SCHOOLS FOR TWO WEEKS AND THEN REOPENED RIGHT AFTER. NOVA SCOTIA, JUST A FEW WEEKS AGO, SAID THAT IT WAS CLOSING SCHOOLS FOR THE... THROUGH THE END OF THE YEAR AND KIDS WOULD LEARN ONLINE. BUT THEN REVERSED... DID NOT REVERSE IT. THEIR CASES WENT DOWN AND THE LOCKDOWN OR WHATEVER THEY DID WORKED AND SO KIDS HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE CLASSROOM. I THINK THERE IS A PRIORITY BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, THERE'S AN UNDERSTANDING THAT KIDS NEED THAT CONNECTION WITH THEIR TEACHERS AND THEIR CONNECTION WITH THEIR CLASSMATES, AND BEING IN THE CLASSROOM IS GOOD FOR KIDS. IT'S HARD FOR STUDENTS TO LEARN ONLINE ALL DAY. IT'S HARD FOR THEM TO SIT IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER. AND I THINK OTHER PROVINCES HAVE RECOGNIZED THAT IT'S IMPORTANT THAT KIDS BE IN THE CLASSROOM WITH THEIR TEACHER FOR WHATEVER TIME IS LEFT IN THE SCHOOL YEAR.

Nam says STEPHEN LECCE, THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, WE DID TRY TO GET HIM ON THE PROGRAM, BUT UNFORTUNATELY WE WERE TOLD THAT THERE'S NO TIME TO ACCOMMODATE THAT. KRISTIN, YOUR NEWSPAPER REPORTED THIS WEEK THAT STEPHEN LECCE, THE EDUCATION MINISTER, WAS PROMISING SCHOOLS WERE SAFE SINCE LAST NOVEMBER. BUT MEDICAL EXPERTS, TORONTO'S HOSPITAL FOR SICK CHILDREN, WERE LESS CERTAIN. CAN YOU GIVE US THE STORY BEHIND THAT?

Kristin says SO THIS IS BASED ON WORK BY TWO OF MY COLLEAGUES. THEY DID SOME FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUESTS TO SEE WHAT WAS GOING ON LAST FALL. SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN SHUT DOWN FROM MARCH TO JUNE AND KIDS RETURNED IN SEPTEMBER. YOU KNOW, AT THAT TIME CASES WERE LOWER, AND STEPHEN LECCE AND DAVID WILLIAMS, THEY WERE SAYING SCHOOLS WERE SAFE, NOT A BIG SOURCE OF TRANSMISSION. AND THERE'S BEEN THEIR MESSAGE CONSISTENTLY ALL ALONG. IN AROUND NOVEMBER, THERE WAS A MEETING AND I GUESS AT THAT POINT IN TIME THERE WAS NOT A LOT OF DEFINITIVE DATA ON IT. THEY WERE SAYING ARE SCHOOLS SAFE? WE DON'T KNOW. NUMBERS WERE STILL LOW AT THAT POINT AND THE MESSAGING STILL WAS SCHOOLS WERE SAFE. MAYBE THAT WAS BASED ON OTHER JURISDICTIONS' EXPERIENCE, AND ALSO THE FACT THAT THERE DIDN'T SEEM TO BE HUGE AMOUNTS OF TRANSMISSION, ALTHOUGH THERE WERE SEVERAL OUTBREAKS. SO I THINK AT THAT TIME THEY WERE SAYING SCHOOLS WERE SAFE. THEY DIDN'T REALLY HAVE THE DATA TO BACK IT UP.

Nam says SORRY, CAROLINE, GO AHEAD.

Caroline says YES, I JUST WANTED TO JUMP IN, NAM. I THINK THROUGHOUT THIS PANDEMIC, ONE OF THE QUESTIONS HAS ALWAYS BEEN: ARE SCHOOLS SAFE? RESEARCHERS HAVE BEEN DEBATING THIS. EDUCATORS HAVE BEEN DEBATING THIS. PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS HAVE BEEN WEIGHING IN ON THIS. AND I DON'T THINK WE CAN REALLY ANSWER THAT QUESTION BECAUSE I THINK THE CONSENSUS IS THAT SCHOOLS ARE A REFLECTION OF WHAT'S HAPPENING IN THE COMMUNITY. AND DIFFERENT JURISDICTIONS HAVE IMPLEMENTED DIFFERENT HEALTH MEASURES AND SAFETY MEASURES IN SCHOOL. SO THERE MAY BE SOME MASKING IN KIND GUARANTEES UP HERE AND THAT MAY NOT BE THE CASE ELSEWHERE. THERE IS COHORTING HERE. THERE MAY NOT BE THE CASE ELSEWHERE. I DON'T THINK EVEN WITH RESEARCH STUDIES, IT'S HARD TO DETERMINE IF IT WILL BE APPLIED ELSEWHERE. AND I THINK, YOU KNOW, THAT QUESTION OF, ARE SCHOOLS SAFE? I MEAN, WE ARE IN A PANDEMIC. THERE ARE CASES IN THE COMMUNITY. SO THERE'S GOING TO BE CASES IN SCHOOLS INEVITABLY.

Nam says I THINK ONE OF THE... IT CAME OUT MAYBE IN DECEMBER, BECAUSE IN COVID TIME, WHAT IS A MONTH? AND THE SUGGESTION WAS MADE THAT NOT ENOUGH TESTING WAS BEING DONE IN SCHOOLS TO KNOW IF THERE WERE CASES BECAUSE SOME OF THEM COULD BE ASYMPTOMATIC. KRISTIN, WHEN HE WAS TELLING EVERYBODY THAT SCHOOLS WERE SAFE, WAS THIS MORE ABOUT POLITICAL POSTURING THAN ANYTHING ELSE?

Kristin says I BELIEVE WHAT HE WAS SAYING WAS BASED ON WHAT HE WAS HEARING FROM DAVID WILLIAMS, AND HE WAS SAYING, YOU KNOW, I THINK THE NUMBER WAS 99 percent OF STUDENTS HAD NOT BEEN INFECTED WITH COVID, THEY'RE COVID-FREE. THAT HAD BEEN HIS CONSISTENT MESSAGING WAS IT WAS 90 percent PLUS THAT EVERYTHING WAS SAFE. INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH, WHEN PREMIER FORD DID SEND OUT HIS LETTER SEEKING CONSENSUS FROM ALL EDUCATION STAKEHOLDERS ON WHETHER TO REOPEN SCHOOLS OR NOT, THERE WAS SOMETHING IN THERE THAT SAID, AND THIS WAS NEW INFORMATION, THAT SCHOOLS WERE THE BIGGEST SOURCE OF OUTBREAKS IN THE MONTHS PRECEDING APRIL 20TH. THAT CAME AS A SURPRISE. I THINK IT WAS MORE THAN WORKPLACES AND EVERYTHING ELSE, AND THESE WERE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS. HIGH SCHOOLS WERE SOMEWHAT BETTER. SO THAT DID COME AS A SURPRISE. I THINK PEOPLE DIDN'T REALIZE THAT AND IT'S CERTAINLY NOT SOMETHING THAT WAS EVER TOLD TO REPORTERS AND TO THE PUBLIC AT LARGE. SO WERE SCHOOLS SAFE? I MEAN, IN GENERAL I THINK YOU COULD SAY SOME RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT THERE WASN'T A LOT OF TRANSMISSION. BUT ONCE YOU HAVE THE COMMUNITY NUMBERS, AS CAROLINE MENTIONED, IT DOES COME INTO SCHOOLS. I THINK THAT'S WHY WE SAW THE SCIENCE TABLE PREDICT THAT SHOULD STUDENTS RETURN, THERE COULD BE AN INCREASE, AND I THINK THE PREMIER SAID ABOUT 2,000 TO 4,000 CASES.

Nam says CAROLINE, YOU ACTUALLY ASKED THE PREMIER, THAT GOVERNMENT HAD MISLED THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE SAFETY OF SCHOOLS. WHAT DID HE SAY?

Caroline says HE SAID... WELL, HIS RESPONSE WAS NO. HE SAID THAT THE NEW VARIANTS ARE TAKING HOLD, ESPECIALLY THE NEW DELTA VARIANT, AND THERE WAS CONCERN ABOUT THAT. SO I UNDERSTAND, NAM, THAT THE SCIENCE IS CHANGING. THE SCIENCE IS EVOLVING. I UNDERSTAND THAT THERE ARE NEW VARIANTS COMING AND WE HAVE TO BE AWARE OF THAT. SO THE PREMIER'S RESPONSE WAS, HE HADN'T MISLED THE PUBLIC THAT SCHOOLS WERE SAFE. BUT AS KRIS SAID, THERE WAS THAT LETTER THAT HE SENT TO PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS AND MEDICAL OFFICERS OF HEALTH AND, YOU KNOW, TEACHER UNIONS THAT SAID THAT SCHOOLS WERE A LARGE SOURCE OF OUTBREAKS. AND SO THAT KIND OF... YOU JUST SORT OF JUXTAPOSE THAT WITH WHAT HE SAID PREVIOUSLY, THAT SCHOOLS WERE SAFE. YOU HAVE QUESTIONS AROUND THAT NOW.

Nam says GOING BACK TO SCHOOLS AGAIN, WE HAD BEEN HEARING A LOT... THE GOVERNMENT DID ANNOUNCE THAT THEY WERE GIVING ADDITIONAL FUNDING OF 31 MILLION DOLLARS, I BELIEVE, TO HELP KIDS WITH MENTAL HEALTH. WE'VE BEEN HEARING A LOT ABOUT THAT BEING ONE OF THE PRIMARY REASONS WHY KIDS SHOULD GO BACK TO SCHOOL. CAROLINE, WHAT IMPACT HAS REMOTE LEARNING HAD ON CHILDREN'S MENTAL HEALTH?

Caroline says I MEAN, WE HAVE TO REMEMBER, NAM, THAT ABOUT... ROUGHLY A QUARTER OF ONTARIO STUDENTS CHOSE REMOTE LEARNING BACK IN SEPTEMBER, OR FAMILIES CHOSE REMOTE LEARNING BACK IN SEPTEMBER. SO THERE HAVE BEEN A HUGE NUMBER OF KIDS THAT HAVE BEEN DOING IT ALL ALONG. YOU KNOW, WE'RE STARTING TO HEAR... I MEAN, BEING ONLINE IS SO DIFFICULT FOR 5-YEAR-OLDS, 6-YEAR-OLDS, 7-YEAR-OLDS. WE'RE STARTING TO HEAR ABOUT KIDS THAT HAVE JUST DISENGAGED, TURNING IT OFF, HAVING MELTDOWNS AT HOME, NOT BEING ABLE TO DO THIS. AND WE'RE GETTING A PICTURE OF LEARNING LOSS AMONG KIDS, ESPECIALLY YOUNG KIDS WHO YOU LEARN THE FUNDAMENTALS OF READING IN THESE EARLY GRADES, AND WE'RE STARTING TO HEAR THAT KIDS ARE DISENGAGED FROM LEARNING. I SPOKE WITH AN ATTENDANCE COUNSELLOR UP IN THUNDER BAY A MONTH OR SO AGO ABOUT WHAT HE'S SEEING. AND REMEMBER, THUNDER BAY SCHOOLS HAVE BEEN CLOSED LONGER THAN SCHOOLS IN TORONTO AND PEEL. THEY'VE BEEN CLOSED SINCE MARCH. AND, YOU KNOW, HE HAS FAMILIES THAT HAVE COMPLETELY DISENGAGED FROM EDUCATION, AND IT'S JUST SO DIFFICULT RIGHT NOW. YOU KNOW, I THINK EDUCATORS ARE STARTING TO WORRY ABOUT SEPTEMBER AND STARTING TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT KIDS, YOU KNOW, WITH VARYING EDUCATION LEVELS... I MEAN, YOU ALWAYS HAVE SUMMER LEARNING LOSS. THERE'S ALWAYS THAT COMING INTO THE PICTURE. BUT WITH VARYING EDUCATION LEVELS COMING INTO THE SCHOOL SYSTEM AND WHAT IS BEING DONE, IF ANYTHING, TO HELP MITIGATE THOSE LEARNING LOSSES? I THINK THAT IS NOW A GROWING WORRY FOR EDUCATORS, ESPECIALLY IN ONTARIO WHERE KIDS HAVE BEEN IN AND OUT OF ONLINE LEARNING THROUGHOUT THE ACADEMIC YEAR.

Nam says KRISTIN, DO WE KNOW IF THE GOVERNMENT IS PLANNING ON ADDRESSING THAT LEARNING LOSS?

Kristin says SO THEY HAVE PLEDGED SOME MONEY FOR SUMMER LEARNING, FOR MATH AND A LITTLE BIT FOR TUTORING. WHAT WE ARE SEEING FROM OTHER JURISDICTIONS, THOUGH, IS MUCH MORE COMPREHENSIVE PLANS, ESPECIALLY AROUND ADDRESSING THE LEARNING LOSS. YOU KNOW, IN THE U.K., THEY'RE LOOKING AT ADDING 30 MINUTES A DAY TO THE SCHOOL DAY, HIRING TUTORS. I THINK QUEBEC AND B.C. HAVE TALKED ABOUT HIRING TUTORS TO HELP STUDENTS. BECAUSE IF YOU LOOK AT IT, I THINK OVER IN THE U.K. THEY'VE LOOKED AT TWO MONTHS LEARNING LOSS. THAT'S HOW FAR KIDS ARE BEHIND. AND IN ONTARIO WITH KIDS HAVING BEEN OUT BY SO MUCH LONGER, BY JUNE THEY WILL HAVE BEEN OUT 26 WEEKS OVER THE COURSE OF THE PANDEMIC. THAT'S A LONG TIME. SO TWO MONTHS' LEARNING LOSS. THE TORONTO DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD, WHICH IS THE COUNTRY'S LARGEST BOARD, DID A LOOK AT THE LEARNING LOSS. THEY FOUND THAT KIDS IN GRADE 1 WERE ABOUT THREE PERCENTAGE POINTS BEHIND IN READING. HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS HAD HELD PRETTY STUDY. BUT IF THEY WERE ALREADY VULNERABLE OR ALREADY STRUGGLING, THEY WERE STRUGGLING MORE SO. CAROLINE ALSO MENTIONED THE ISSUE OF ABSENTEEISM. THERE'S ALSO THE ISSUE OF GHOSTING, RIGHT, WHERE KIDS LOG ON. THEY KIND OF SIGN IN, SAY THAT THEY'RE THERE, AND THE CAMERA IS OFF AND THEN THEY'RE NOT TAKING PART IN SCHOOL. THERE IS THAT WHOLE ISSUE OF DISENGAGEMENT THAT I KNOW SCHOOLS ARE CONCERNED ABOUT AND THAT THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE TO ADDRESS IN SOME FORM IN THE FALL.

Nam says I KNOW TWO PEOPLE WHO DO THAT IN MY HOUSEHOLD. CAROLINE, GO AHEAD.

[LAUGHTER]

Caroline says WELL, I HOPE MINE ARE PAYING ATTENTION. WHO KNOWS SOMETIMES? THERE ARE EDUCATORS WHO ARE CALLING FOR REVIEWING THE ONTARIO CURRICULUM, REVIEWING THE KINDERGARTEN RIGHT UP TO GRADE 12, IF YOU HAVE TO. REVIEWING THE CURRICULUM TO MAKE SURE THAT THERE IS SOME SCAFFOLDING HAPPENS THAT HE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR NEXT YEAR TO JUST SORT OF, YOU KNOW, KNOW WHERE KIDS ARE AT FROM THE PREVIOUS GRADE. AND THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE NOW. THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE EARLY ENOUGH. AND THERE HAVEN'T BEEN ANY, YOU KNOW, THERE HASN'T BEEN ANY MOVEMENT TO DO ANYTHING LIKE THAT. THERE HAS BEEN MONEY, AS KRIS SAID, PLEDGED TO REMEDIATION, TO SUMMER LEARNING. BUT THOSE ARE DOLLARS SENT TO SCHOOL BOARDS, AND THEY HAVE TO FIGURE IT OUT, WHICH THEY WILL, I'M SURE, BUT THERE'S NO PROVINCIAL PLAN AROUND THIS. AND I THINK THAT'S WHAT EDUCATORS ESPECIALLY AND RESEARCHERS ARE CALLING FOR, LIKE SOME SORT OF PROVINCIAL INITIATIVE TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES.

Nam says KRISTIN, A FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE REPORT RECENTLY FOUND THAT THE PROVINCE IS 12 BILLION DOLLARS SHORT IN ITS EDUCATION SPENDING PLAN. WE'VE BEEN HEARING FROM THE GOVERNMENT SAYING THAT THEY'VE INVESTED MORE MONEY THAN ANYONE ELSE. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR STUDENTS GOING FORWARD, IF THERE IS A 12 BILLION DOLLARS SHORT IN ITS EDUCATION SPENDING PLAN?

Kristin says SO THE REPORT FROM THE FAO DID SAY THAT IT WAS 12 BILLION DOLLARS SHORT. THAT'S OVER THE NEXT DECADE. AND THEY'RE LOOKING AT WHAT THE GOVERNMENT IS PLANNING ON SPENDING VERSUS WHAT THEY THINK THEY WILL SPEND. LOOKING AT INFLATION, LOOKING AT SALARIES AND THINGS LIKE THAT. BECAUSE IT'S COSTED OUT OVER THE NEXT DECADE, WE HAVE AN ELECTION NEXT YEAR AND ANOTHER BEFORE THAT HAPPENS. WE COULD HAVE A CHANGE OF GOVERNMENT A COUPLE OF TIMES. WE CAN LOOK AT THE NUMBERS THAT WAY. BUT THERE'S ALSO CONCERN THAT THERE'S NOT ENOUGH FUNDING THERE TO EVEN COVER INFLATION. THAT'S SOMETHING WE'VE HEARD FROM THE UNIONS AND SOMETHING WE'VE ALSO HEARD FROM THE OPPOSITION CRITICS. INITIALLY BOARDS WERE TOLD THEY WEREN'T GETTING EXTRA COVID MONEY. NOW THEY ARE. THE GOVERNMENT HAS PLEDGED ABOUT 1.6 BILLION DOLLARS TO HELP WITH COVID FUNDING AND BOARDS ARE ALLOWED TO SPEND ABOUT HALF OF IT BECAUSE WE'RE JUST GOING TO SEE HOW THINGS PROGRESS THROUGHOUT THE YEAR. SO THAT WE WILL SEE THINGS LIKE IMPROVED VENTILATION AND PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT AND THINGS LIKE THAT.

Nam says I HAVE ABOUT A MINUTE LEFT AND I WANTED TO JUST GET FROM YOU MAYBE 30 SECONDS FROM EACH OF YOU, YOU SPEAK TO PARENTS, YOU ARE... YOU KNOW, WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT THIS, KIDS UPSTAIRS AND EVERYTHING. MOVING FORWARD TO SEPTEMBER, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE THING THAT'S TOP OF MIND FOR PARENTS? CAROLINE, I'LL START WITH YOU.

Caroline says I THINK PARENTS WANT THEIR CHILDREN IN SCHOOL. I THINK, AS NORMAL A YEAR WE CAN GIVE THEM AFTER A YEAR OF DISRUPTION. I THINK PARENTS JUST WANT EVERYTHING IN PLACE SO THAT THEIR KIDS CAN BE IN SCHOOL IN SEPTEMBER. YOU KNOW, PARENTS HAVE TAKEN ON THE ROLE OF TEACHER, AS PARENT, AND THEY JUST WANT THEIR KIDS TO BE HAPPY AND IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEM.

Nam says AND KRISTIN?

Kristin says YES. I MEAN, DEFINITELY. WANT TO RETURN TO NORMAL, AS NORMAL AS WE CAN. I THINK A LOT OF THINGS WE HEAR FROM PARENTS AND ALSO STUDENTS, THEY WANT EXTRACURRICULARS, THEY WANT THEIR CLUBS AND SPORTS WHICH HAVE OBVIOUSLY BEEN CURTAILED THIS YEAR. THEY WANT THEIR GRAD. THEY WANT THEIR PROM. THOSE ARE THE THINGS THEY'RE LOOKING FOR AND THAT CONNECTIVENESS WITH THEIR SCHOOL.

The caption changes to "Producer: Colin Ellis, @ColinEllis81."

Nam says KRISTIN AND CAROLINE, THANK YOU SO MUCH AND THANK YOU FOR ALL THE TERRIFIC WORK YOU'VE BEEN DOING THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC. WE REALLY DO APPRECIATE YOUR INSIGHTS.

Caroline says THANK YOU, NAM.

Kristin says THANKS, NAM.

Watch: School's Out For Summer (and COVID-19)