No relief for back to school, teachers unions worry unless province provides safety plan

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No one should feel comfortable if students return to class for in-person learning on Monday, says Patrick Etmanski.

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s Waterloo Region branch president says this is because with the spread of COVID-19 in the community at an increased rate, it is very likely that some classes will be expelled at home or that entire schools will be closed if there are not enough teachers or staff at work.

Etmanski says everyone wants the students to be in school and the teachers want to be in the classroom. But it must also be a safe environment for all.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to make an announcement Wednesday afternoon on the return to class date. Etmanski says he wants to make sure there is some sort of security plan included because in his opinion there isn’t.

“Nothing is different. In fact, in many ways it’s worse than before,” he said Tuesday after announcing Monday evening that the students would be returning to school next week. This news was confirmed by CBC News by a spokesperson for Premier Doug Ford.

Etmanski said in December, when there were cases of COVID-19 in schools, those cases were reported publicly.

“Families would be notified and people could deal with it appropriately. Now that won’t even happen… So cases in schools won’t be reported. Families won’t know if there is a case. positive in the Actually, we won’t even know if a positive case is a positive case because, how are these people going to be tested? ”he said.

“It’s a disaster. It’s a mess.”

“So many unknowns”

Jeff Pelch, president of the Waterloo Region Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said he too didn’t know what had changed between the end of December, when the province announced that the schools would switch to distance learning, and now.

“I think one of the big questions we ask ourselves is, what has been done? What has been put in place to make sure schools are safe next week? ” he said.

Pelch said there were concerns about the low immunization rates of children aged five to 11 – not quite half of the area’s children received a first dose. He is also concerned that cases will not be monitored in schools.

“We still do not have a concrete plan to deal with any of the expected increases in staff absences, which are expected to occur next week simply due to the new isolation protocols,” he said.

“There are so many unknowns, and it’s this frustration with strangers… that really frustrates our members and creates a lot of worries and a lot of questions that we just don’t have answers to.”

The green leader calls for school statistics

Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner is also calling on the government to be transparent about what has been done, and he said he hopes Lecce will respond to it in the announcement on Wednesday afternoon.

“We need the Premier and the Minister of Education to show leadership here,” Schreiner said in an interview on Tuesday, calling for a province-wide database of safety statistics in schools. This database would list things like:

  • How many N95 masks are available for educators, staff, and students.
  • How many HEPA air filtration units are in a school and information on air quality.
  • Vaccination rate for teachers and students.
  • The number of rapid test and PCR kits available in the school.
  • Number of cases and epidemics.
  • Class sizes.

“This type of information, I think, is essential in instilling public confidence in the safety of our schools, and we need the Prime Minister to be transparent and honest with people about it,” Schreiner said.

As the winter school break began, NDP Kitchener Center MP Laura Mae Lindo called for increased school safety, including free rapid tests, compulsory immunizations for all teachers and education workers and small classes.

The province is doing “all it can”

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government was doing “everything in its power to make schools safer for students” and said Lecce would be able to answer specific questions on Wednesday.

Matthew Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health, was part of Elliott’s press conference. He said it might be possible to do PCR testing in schools and thus positive cases could be reported by individual schools.

“We are seeing this at the moment as an additional measure to try to support the reopening of schools,” he said.

Lecce is scheduled to speak at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and is expected to be accompanied by Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. Kieran Moore.

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