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Ford’s school reopening plan risks COVID-19 outbreaks and further disruption to learning

August 3, 2021

TORONTO, ON - Today, the Ford government delivered an incomplete and inadequate school reopening plan that loosens safety precautions that will likely lead to more COVID-19 outbreaks and disruption to in-person learning. While we all want a return to in-person learning that is safe and sustainable, the only way this can happen is if we have the safety precautions in place that further prevent the spread of COVID-19. The province’s plan does not do enough, especially given the increased risks the Delta variant poses to those who are unvaccinated, including children under 12.

“It’s clear that Premier Ford and Minister Lecce are relying on vaccinations alone to provide a safe school reopening and a return to extracurriculars. What they seem to have forgotten is that Ontarians remain at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, and most elementary children are ineligible for vaccines,” says Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) President Sam Hammond. “Because of this government’s poor decision-making, students in Ontario lost more opportunities to learn in person than any other students in Canada. Educators want schools to stay open all year even as we combat the variants we know will threaten reopening and recovery for some time. The Ford government’s consistent and reckless disregard for the seriousness of this pandemic will not keep students, staff and their families safe.”

ETFO firmly believes in-person instruction provides the best experience for learning and is the most equitable model for all students. To ensure a safe and sustainable return to in-person learning, ETFO calls on the Ford government to:

  • lower class sizes to enable physical distancing;
  • put cohorting in place that genuinely limits interactions;
  • maintain last year’s isolation procedures for anyone who develops symptoms or receives positive test results;
  • improve contact tracing and a re-evaluation of who is deemed a high-risk contact;
  • mandate masking for all elementary students, including Kindergarten, unless medically exempted;
  • require confirmation of COVID-19 screening of staff and students;
  • provide accessible, on-site asymptomatic testing in high-risk scenarios;
  • mandate that school boards assess ventilation in every classroom;
  • provide adequate time and funding for school boards to make ventilation improvements;
  • provide staff and families with evidence of adequate ventilation, including: the provision of carbon dioxide detectors; upgrades to HVAC filters; portable HEPA filters, where necessary; HVAC documented upgrades, repairs and maintenance; and clear protocols for opening windows and doors;
  • maintain existing safety precautions in Physical Education classes;
  • direct adequate safeguards for student transportation; and
  • immediately reverse its $800-million funding cut to public education for the 2021-2022 school year.

Students and families deserve to know what dedicated resources will be available to support learning recovery and renewal. Instead, we heard a vague commitment that additional resources and training will be available for educators this school year. Just how much more time does the Ford government need to deliver on this,” notes Hammond. “Students, in particular those who have disabilities, are racialized and/or experience marginalization, must be supported to recover and move forward in positive ways. To do that, resources and supports must be available immediately to help re-engage students and inspire their success.”

In developing their plan, the Ford government, again, did not seek input from front-line education workers. “One would think that a government who repeatedly failed to address the impacts of COVID-19 in schools would be open to hearing from those who worked tirelessly to meet the needs of students while faced with significant challenges throughout the pandemic, but no. Our frequent calls for an advisory table went unanswered, and now we are left with another incomplete plan that loosens safety precautions at a critical time during the pandemic,” adds Hammond.

ETFO represents 83,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province. Its Building Better Schools education agenda can be viewed at BuildingBetterSchools.ca.

For more information, contact Carla Pereira, ETFO Media Relations, 416-576-9074, cpereira@etfo.org.