The Forgotten Demographic: Assessing the Possible Benefits and Serious Cost of COVID-19 School Closures on Canadian Children

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020, entire populations halted socializing, schooling, and commerce to “stay home and save lives” in the face of uncertainty about the severity and transmissibility of the virus. Quickly, however, data emerged about the actual risk posed by COVID-19 to various age groups. This new data should have guided Canadian governments’ responses to the risk, balancing virus transmission with the well-being of people and the economy. Yet school closures ended up spanning three school years, and the response was not a reflection of the data.

This paper focuses on school closures to help weigh the costs and benefits of pandemic policies imposed on children by governments. First, the paper reviews the epidemiological benefits of school closures, asking to what degree children were at risk, whether school closures would stop transmission, and at what point did we have the answers to those questions. Second, the paper assesses the non-monetary costs of school closures, including an international literature review of the impacts on youth mental health, an examination of the significant spikes in severe absenteeism, and an analysis of the available provincial student test scores comparing 2018-19 and 2021-22 to assess learning loss. Ultimately, this paper asks: were school closures worth the consequences suffered by Canadian kids?

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