Two teachers unions are calling for a provincewide extension of online learning during Ontario's state of emergency, saying the current regional approach doesn't do enough to protect students or teachers from the ravages of COVID-19.
The presidents of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Association say that while they want schools to be open, it's just not safe right now.
"Premier Ford’s rhetoric about a provincewide crisis, including skyrocketing cases for children and youth, does not align with his government’s decision to keep some schools open and allow in-person learning for students with special education needs in others without putting in place all necessary safety measures," OECTA president Liz Stuart said in a written statement.
As it stands, students living outside the five hot spots in the southern part of the province are due to return to class on Jan. 25, and most schools in northern Ontario reopened at the beginning of the week.
Stuart said the union understands the strain that online learning puts on "students, families and school staff," but that it's not safe for anyone to return to the classroom with rates of COVID-19 so high.
Stuart and OSSTF president Harvey Bischof say that online learning should be extended until the government sits down with education stakeholders to come up with a safer plan for returning to the classroom, including a "robust infection surveillance system" and better ventilation.
Both unions say they want schools open, but not unless it's safe.
A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that school safety is the ministry's top priority.
"Consistently, teacher union presidents have called for schools to shutter during the pandemic while vigorously opposing online learning — so it’s not surprising, though regrettable, to hear this relentless opposition from them," Caitlin Clark said in an email.
SickKids, meanwhile, is recommending the province's approach.
"In light of the current high levels of community prevalence and positivity rates as well as the newly characterized COVID-19 variant ... a customized approach should be taken to closing schools providing additional targeted support to schools and families in communities with the highest risk of transmission," the hospital said late last week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press