Windsor teachers' unions say Ontario's back-to-school plan leaves questions unanswered

·3 min read
Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex ETFO, says the province's back-to-school plan comes with a lot of risks for students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC - image credit)
Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex ETFO, says the province's back-to-school plan comes with a lot of risks for students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC - image credit)

With most elementary school children still ineligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine and no word on how schools should tackle a COVID-19 outbreak, Windsor-Essex teachers' unions say the Ontario government's back-to-school plan leaves them with "a lot of questions."

On Tuesday, the province announced Ontario students would return to the classroom full time in September with remote learning continuing to be an option.

Staff and students in Grade 1 and up must wear masks in indoor settings — with exceptions for things like meal breaks and low-contact physical activities — and self-screening will be required before coming into school facilities.

"One of the things that I don't see that clearly outlined is what the outbreak plan is," said Mario Spagnuolo, the local president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. "If a student or a staff member does contract COVID, what's the plan for that? There's not a lot of information on contract tracing."

A major positive for Spagnuolo, he said, is mandatory masking for students between Grade 1 to 12. But he has concerns over cohorting, particularly when students are sharing common spaces like the music room and using instruments.

The province will allow music programs to operate in areas with good ventilation, with singing and wind instruments permitted in cohorted groups with distancing of at least two metres.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

"I think there's too much risk being taken in some areas of this plan, especially with the Delta variant making its way. We know it's going to be coming and it's going to be in stronger numbers than we're seeing now, because of what we've seen south of us in the United States," said Spagnuolo.

"Once it does take a hold of a community, it seems to spread a lot more and we need to be ready for that."

Shortly after the unveiling of the province's back-to-school plan, CBC News spoke with multiple Windsorites to get their thoughts. Murray Bevan said he recently retired as an elementary school teacher.

"So I taught through all that stuff last year," he said. "Masks are absolutely essential to keep the spread down, especially with the young kids not being completely vaccinated."

For children like Ajiun Cobo, he said the province's back-to-school plan should have required eligible students and staff to be fully vaccinated before they can begin school.

"They have to be. Because if they don't, they may not feel better sooner," said Cobo.

Hear more from Windsorites on their reaction to the province's back-to-school plan:

Meanwhile, Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation District 9 president Erin Roy said she was hoping the province's plan would call for "complete normalcy" but she's OK with a more cautious approach being taken.

In terms of many of the questions left unanswered by the province, Roy considers it to be "par for the course" by the Ford government.

"They tend not to have everything ready and in a timely fashion. Now, we're a month out from school," she said, adding she'll be meeting with school board officials next week to discuss protocol.

"I have an 11-year-old, so I'm anxiously awaiting his birthday so I can get him vaccinated because I think that is our way of the pandemic," said Roy. "The more people that are vaccinated, then the greater chance we have at beating it."

In a statement, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said it will meet with senior administration and the local health unit to "review and refine our school board plans" in accordance with the province's back-to-school directives.

"We expect that further direction from the province regarding COVID-19 case management will be forthcoming. In the meantime, we would certainly remind anyone 12 and older that vaccines are still available," said Emelda Byrne, director of education for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board.

"Once we have established our own local guidelines, we will share them with our staff, our students and their families."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting