Just days before students are set to return to the classroom in Ontario, the province’s back-to-school plan has shrouded in uncertainty and critics are calling for more details.
Most publicly funded schools are set to return Monday, but with increased cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 straining public health testing and contact tracing resources, whether students enrolled in in-person programs will return to class is very much in doubt.
Premier Doug Ford said on Tuesday that ministers would meet soon to make a decision.
“They will go out. I know the minister [of health] “He’s been sitting at the table with the education secretary… and we’ll make an announcement in the next couple of days,” Ford said. But we just want to see how it goes, obviously speaking to our chief medical officer, Dr. [Kieran] Moore.”
Pending that decision – there are no announcements scheduled on Wednesday from the prime minister or his top ministers – some worry that parents will scramble to prepare for the transition from in-person guidance to virtual education.
“It’s a problem if schools go online and it’s a problem we don’t know about,” Gabrielle Brankston, a mother of three school-age children who is also a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the University of Guelph, said in an interview. On CBC morning metro.
“Aside from the fact that my children never want this online learning again, I am concerned about equity issues. I am concerned about a single parent who cannot work from home and have to… arrange childcare and online learning with really short notice.”
Brankston said her children, ages 5, 11 and 13, felt left out of online learning when schools closed last year, but she’s worried about bringing it back with community transmission so high.
She said she would feel more comfortable with her Smaller class sizes, HEPA filtering within each classroom, vaccine mandates for students and teachers, best-in-all masks and free quick tests every family and education worker wants.
Opposition leaders echoed many of those ideas on Wednesday, calling on the Ford government for more clarity about its plan to return to school.
NDP Chairwoman Andrea Horwath said it was “ridiculous” that families still did not know if classes would resume in a few days and that the government should have used the holiday period to make schools safer with plans for regular testing, better masks and better ventilation.
Speaking at a virtual press conference, Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca said the government had not taken enough measures to make schools safer after closing them for extended periods earlier in the pandemic.
“We shouldn’t be in a situation now where parents are so worried, where frontline education workers don’t know for sure what’s going on, and people are so tired, so exhausted, so exhausted by losing Doug Ford at work, Del Duca said.
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner accused Ford of leaving parents and students “in the dark” about returning to school.
“It is outrageous,” Schreiner said in a statement. “We have the tools to make schools safer. But the prime minister turned a blind eye.”
Ontario committed to keeping schools safe: Education Minister
In a statement, Education Secretary Stephen Lecce’s spokesman said the government was committed to protecting students, staff and families, but did not give a specific date for a decision on schools opening next week.
“Every step of the way, we have implemented the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, including improving ventilation in every school, deploying 70,000 portable HEPA units, high-quality masks, and thousands of student vaccine pop-ups, along with expanded testing options and more staff. recruited to support safer schools,” said the statement from Caitlin Clark.
“Our government has proactively deployed home PCR tests in all schools and 11 million direct rapid antigen tests for all students learning in schools—the only district to do both—as part of our ongoing commitment to protecting students, staff, and families.”
The uncertainty about the situation in Ontario comes as some provinces are making plans to delay school returns or go online.
Quebec and Nova Scotia have postponed back to school until at least January 10, and schools in Newfoundland and Labrador will start showing up on January 1, with the situation assessed weekly. The British Columbia Department of Education said this week that it plans to return to in-person learning, despite “enhanced safety measures”.