Ontario's delay of in-person schooling by just 2 days is a 'gamble,' Essex teachers' union rep says

·3 min read
Sarah Wuerch, left, says she would like her children to return to classes Monday, the original day in-person learning was to resume, but Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says classes should be virtual for the next weeks in hopes COVID-19 case numbers drop. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Sarah Wuerch, left, says she would like her children to return to classes Monday, the original day in-person learning was to resume, but Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Teachers' Federation of Ontario, says classes should be virtual for the next weeks in hopes COVID-19 case numbers drop. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

The Ontario government's decision to push the start of in-person learning by two days has some parents calling the move unnecessary, but the head of a local teachers' union says more time is needed before classes at schools resume.

On Thursday, provincial medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said in-person classes will resume Jan. 5 rather than Jan. 3, as COVID-19 cases continue spike.

Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Teachers' Federation of Ontario, told CBC News that it seems the two days wouldn't be long enough to let the COVID-19 surge settle or allow more masks and ventilation filters to arrive at schools. He "would encourage" Windsor-Essex's acting medical officer of health to extend school closures for at least a week.

"It would be prudent to lengthen that closure and to allow for online learning to take place so that these safety precautions and measures that the government announced today can actually be put in place," he said, adding it would also give students and staff time to get vaccinated.

"On Wednesday, it will be no different than on Monday."

As of Friday, the province is reporting 16,713 new COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, Windsor-Essex had more than 1,200 active cases, and 12 schools and daycares were listed as being in outbreak.

'This isn't a plan'

One parent, Sarah Wuerch, agreed that not much will change in those two days, so children should return to school Monday as planned.

Wuerch, who has four elementary school-aged kids in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the short notice leaves her with limited babysitting options as both she and husband can't work from home.

Kristen Siapas
Kristen Siapas

"It's just a little more of a struggle," she said, because she'll have to find a babysitter "and plan what to do for my kids," she said.

"It's been stressful. Virtual learning doesn't work out very well, especially with my young ones ... it's stressful to find a balance."

Kristen Siapas, whose four children are in the local French Immersion public school system, doesn't believe parents were given enough time.

"We're looking at these two days as parents and going, 'What is this giving us? What is this buying us? Is two days going to change the numbers drastically?' ... These two days do nothing but mess up a week for people. This isn't a plan, this is just something to disrupt our plans and something that makes things unnecessarily difficult for parents," she said.

"All we're left with is frustration and a lack of answers, as usual ... it's not a great way to kick off the year."

Thilelli Chouikrat/ Radio-Canada
Thilelli Chouikrat/ Radio-Canada

In addition to two days of virtual learning, the government announced the following:

  • An updated COVID-19 screener for students, parents and staff.

  • Non-fit-tested N95 masks and more three-ply cloth masks.

  • More HEPA filters for the ventilation systems.

  • Continued PCR testing.

  • Temporarily allowing low-contact indoor sports and safe extracurricular activities in January.

  • Updating COVID-19 reporting requirements for school boards and child care.

  • Supporting the projected hiring of more than 2,000 staff.

But Spagnuolo said these new measures don't go far enough as the government is still not directly promising reduced class sizes, for example.

He said while teachers want to see schools stay open and do in-person teaching, they also want it to be safe.

"Two days is basically a gamble, and do we want to gamble with students and staff and their health? I don't think so."

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