Kitchener Centre NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo is calling for enhanced safety measures for Ontario students and staff returning from the holiday break on Jan. 3.
"I realized that with the current government, they often pit educators and education workers against the students and their families, so it's like we can either keep the students safe or we can keep the educators safe," said Lindo.
"We need to have a bigger sense of what to do to keep schools open. And to do that, you've got to make sure that you're fighting to ensure that everybody has access to all of the protective equipment that they need to be safe."
Recommendations to keep schools open
The Ontario NDP has listed recommendations to the province over what to do to keep schools open. Some include:
Free rapid tests for all students and education workers they can continue to take after the holidays.
A robust outreach campaign to parents to encourage vaccination for students between now and Jan. 3, including culturally relevant outreach.
Mandatory vaccination for all teachers and education workers.
Reduced class sizes and school busloads, to begin Jan. 3.
Free N95 masks for all teachers and education workers.
A Ministry of Education spokesperson responded to the recommendations in an emailed statement to CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. The spokesperson said the government has been implementing advice from the chief medical officer of health and Ontario's science table, and it includes improved ventilation in schools, and providing high-quality masks and thousands of student vaccine pop-up clinics.
"Our government proactively deployed take-home PCR tests to all schools and 11 million rapid antigen tests directly to all students learning in schools — the only province to do both — part of our ongoing commitment to protect students, staff and families," a spokesperson said in a statement.
At a Dec. 21 news conference, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said he's consulting with several experts about a back-to-school plan and is monitoring the pandemic situation.
"We're watching how it unfolds and certainly we'll be prudent and cautious."
Call for resources
Several local school boards have also called for enhanced safety measures.
Last week, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) urged the province to make free rapid antigen tests widely available to all students, families and education workers.
Before the holiday break, students were sent home with five rapid test kits and unvaccinated staff have had access to multiple weekly antigen tests. But many families have reported difficulty in obtaining rapid tests beyond what's provided in schools.
"There is an ongoing concern from education workers and families about the risk of COVID-19 and outbreaks in our schools," wrote Jeanne Gravelle, chair of the WCDSB, in a letter to the province.
"We have already seen the impact of the highly contagious Delta variant, and with communities now facing the unknown risks of the Omicron variant, the need for rapid testing is more important than ever."
In September, the Waterloo Region District School Board sent a letter to the province, asking for students and staff to be provided with KN95 or N95 masks for better protection. Upper Grand District School Board trustees recently supported a motion requesting the same.