Directors of education from four Toronto-area boards have urged public health officials to allow after-school sports and clubs to start as soon as possible, and have discussed ideas such as allowing only fully vaccinated students to participate or creating different rules for elementary school and secondary schools.
Toronto families were caught off guard by Wednesday’s last-minute announcement that Toronto Public Health had ordered a hiatus from all extracurricular activities for September, when neighboring York, Durham, Peel and Halton boards will follow through with them.
Brendan Browne, director of education for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, said he and the other area directors – from the Toronto public, the French public and French Catholic boards – meet weekly, and “we recognize and appreciate the Because Toronto Public Health is trying to take a cautious approach for September, we want to make sure that when students go back to school, we don’t see a correlative increase in cases. ”
However, he added, “what we are expressing as principals in Toronto is that we recognize that extracurricular activities and athletics are vital and important to our students, they are important from a mental health perspective and from a reintegration perspective.”
Discussions with public health about the COVID-19 protocols were “we very much hope that they are put in place as soon as possible. His recommendation, upon returning, was ‘we are only waiting a couple of weeks to make sure that the new routines at school are set up and this is consistent with our cautious approach’. “
After a protest by students and parents from across the city, Toronto’s Catholic trustees voted unanimously Thursday night requesting that Browne “contact Toronto Public Health to advocate for the earliest possible return to extracurricular and sporting events. . Parents, students and educators want to return to sports / extracurricular activities as soon as possible safely. “
They noted that due to the pandemic and school closings, students have not had extracurricular activities in a year and a half, and that “many organized team sports, track and cross-country activities are held outdoors and depend The weather … (and) the season to participate in these activities is very short and any further delay could result in another full school year without these activities. “
The motion, from Etobicoke Trustee Markus de Domenico, said teachers and parents “were confused about what the ‘hiatus’ meant and what effect it would have on their programs, and for parents, their children, their emotional health. and mental “.
He said he supports Toronto Public Health, but “I wanted the board to make it public so that everyone understands that the break means no activities are allowed… I want the medical authorities to know that we are very concerned about the emotional and mental health of the students. . “
However, he added, “I find it hard to think of cross country racing, long jump or whatever – it’s hard to understand that that’s worse than being in a classroom.”
Browne said that if the hiatus lasts for just a couple of weeks, there is a chance to save early-start sports like soccer, cross-country or field hockey.
“We really see this as a temporary thing, so we are very hopeful that we will have a full fall season, even if the season starts a little later,” said Browne, adding that the extracurricular theme will be at the “top of the line.” the agenda”. when principals meet with public health on Monday.
Enacting different protocols for high school students, who are eligible for vaccines, or just allowing fully vaccinated students to play high-contact sports “are certainly on the table as part of the discussions,” he also said.
In an emailed statement to the Star, Toronto Public Health said it is “aware of the (Catholic board’s) motion to the province and will continue to consult with our school board partners on public health recommendations to protect the environment. learning in person. “
Ontario students learned from home, online, more than anyone else in the country since the pandemic began in March 2020, about 26 weeks. This week marked the return to in-person learning for most of them.
Many were hoping to join teams this fall, and athletes and coaches have warned that without sports, Toronto students will be at a particular disadvantage.
The Ottawa-Carleton public board has also delayed the start of extracurricular activities, as have the Windsor area boards.
However, Peel Public Health has said that clubs and sports are too important to children’s mental health, also citing equity concerns given that such activities are still available in the community for families who can afford them.
The province’s medical director of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, gave the green light to fully resume extracurricular activities, with established safety protocols, including high-contact indoor sports such as hockey and basketball.
Individual health units may establish stricter rules based on local circumstances, which has happened in Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in an interview that any delay in sports and clubs should be temporary.