EDITORIAL: Kids should be back in school

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We won’t know for perhaps several years how the pandemic and the shut down of classroom instruction in Ontario affected our children, but the outcome probably won’t be good.

Elementary and high school students have spent an inordinate amount of time away from their classrooms this school year. Because of provincial restrictions, they have had to rely on electronic learning. There have been precious few face-to-face encounters, and even fewer of those deeply human moments that have the capacity to lift the spirit. There has been little opportunity to rub elbows and enjoy the company of each other.

That’s because school has always been more than about learning. It’s also about learning how to live.

It’s been particularly taxing on our younger children. Some, especially those in the early grades, have now spent roughly half of their educational career behind a computer screen while physically separated from their teacher and their classroom chums.

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That’s can’t be good. Indeed, you have to wonder if the protection extended to Ontario’s students has done more harm than good.

There should have been a herculean effort to get them back in the classroom before the school year ended. But even that hasn’t happened, despite the professional opinion of doctors and educators.

Why not? By now schools have been deeply sanitized, most teachers have received their first vaccination shot, and the parents of most kids have received theirs.

And besides, it’s not like the students would be returning to schools without facemasks. Those rules would still apply.

And yet, despite the fact that golf courses, restaurant patios, retail stores and other public and private services have been allowed to re-open or partly re-open, Ontario’s students are still stuck at home doing what they’ve been doing for much of this past school year – physically separated from their teacher, from their school, from their friends and from the normal and sometimes magical experiences that are supposed to accompany a public education.

Students have also been – and this is important to understand – separated from a level of normalcy that all of us have been craving for more than a year.

Premier Doug Ford has thrown out a sop. Schools will be allowed to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies.

But that’s clearly not enough and has been rendered almost meaningless given the kind of year students have been forced to endure.

– Peter Epp

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