The union that represents teachers in Ontario’s Catholic school boards is calling for a province-wide extension of online learning during the province’s state of emergency.
The statement from the head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) echoes that of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF).
OECTA President Liz Stuart says the province’s current plan, which extends remote learning in five hard-hit regions of the province until at least Feb. 10, isn’t in line with Premier Doug Ford’s claims that the COVID-19 crisis is provincewide.
“Premier Ford’s rhetoric about a province-wide 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,” Stuart said in a 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 says that 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.
Stewart 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.
“The government’s approach to-date of making partial announcements of belated half-measures raises more questions than answers,” Stuart continued.
“It is imperative that Premier Ford and Minister Lecce move immediately to convene an advisory table of all education stakeholders to engage in meaningful consultation and implement a clear and transparent plan for Ontario’s schools.”
Both unions say they want schools open, but not unless it’s safe.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
By January 20, the Chief Medical Officer of Health (Dr. David Williams) will advise the Ministry of Education on which public health units will be permitted to resume in-person instruction.
With files from The Canadian Press