The head of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario supports the provincial government's decision to keep elementary students in southern Ontario home longer — given record COVID-19 numbers — but he thinks the measures could have been avoided.
On Thursday, the Ford government announced at-home learning would be extended until Jan. 25 instead of the scheduled return date of Jan. 11. Premier Doug Ford said one in five children under the age of 13 in Ontario who are being tested are turning up positive for COVID-19.
"If this government had not mishandled this file months ago, leading into the opening of the new school year, [if they] had made decisions and actually had a plan in place, we wouldn't be where we are now," said Sam Hammond president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
"For example, if they had made the decision to implement asymptomatic testing in September or even October, they would have had a much better handle on positivity [and] case counts."
Teachers are stressed
The last minute change to schedules takes a toll on parents as well as teachers who, Hammond said, are already stressed. He wants to see some key changes before students return to in-person class.
"We have classrooms with 25 to 33 students and the physical distancing in those classrooms is just centimetres, nowhere near the one-metre or two-metre recommendations," he said
"They also need to be supplying HEPA filters for schools and classrooms and portables where there is no adequate ventilation. They need to look at transportation and how many students are on buses. They also need to seriously consider masks for everyone who is in a school."
As for if elementary students will return after Jan. 25, Hammond isn't sure if a two-week period would be enough to bring the numbers down to a safe level.
"I haven't heard from the government or the Chief Medical Officer of Health what that number might be or what that data should be for it to be safe for students to return to school."
Provincial officials have said they are earmarking funds for personal protective equipment, improved ventilation, the hiring of new staff and the introduction of asymptomatic testing in schools across the province.