Across Ontario, new COVID-19 cases are as low as they’ve been since the pandemic started, and the vaccine rollout is proceeding at a quick clip with now the majority of Ontario fully vaccinated, but there are some lingering questions. Are we prepared for a potential resurgence of the virus in the fall? It’s a question all opposition parties are asking now that we’re just six weeks away from the start of the school year.
Guelph MPP and Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner penned an open letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for a plan to provide students a safe, in-person learning experience in September, and noted the growing evidence that isolation in the pandemic has had a wide-spread negative effect on children.
“Experts agree that the best place for kids to be is in the classroom. Schools should be the last to close and the first to open,” Schreiner said. “But making sure kids can go safely back to school in September and ensuring they stay open will take proper investments so students, educators and staff are protected from COVID-19.”
In the letter, Schreiner calls on Ford and the government to invest in PPE and ventilation, lower class sizes to a maximum if 15, implementing a low-barrier testing and tracing system, and ensuring that as many teachers, support workers, and students 12 years and older as possible are fully vaccinated. Schreiner is also asking for the government to increase mental health workers at schools, and commit to winding down hybrid learning and quadmester schedules.
“We can’t keep putting the burden of schooling on parents. They’re already shouldering so much responsibility, and online learning has forced many parents (and disproportionately women) to leave their jobs as they play the role of teacher, parent and professional all at once,” Schreiner added. “Parents are desperate to know what the plan is with just six weeks to go until September when schools resume, and with the start of 11 month schools just around the corner.”
The Official Opposition agreed with those sentiments in their own media event last week calling for action from the Provincial government.
“Doug Ford should be working around the clock on ventilation upgrades, and hiring extra mental health professionals, teachers and education workers so our kids have small, safe classes with lots of caring adults around them. Instead he’s cutting $800 million from the education budget,” said Chandra Pasma, an NDP candidate for Ottawa West—Nepean.
“Parents in our community are worried about Ford’s wait-and-see approach,” added Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden. “We could be using this summer to proactively reach out to parents to provide information, and help them make the decision and the arrangements to vaccinate their kids. The first day of school is coming fast — we don’t have time to waste.”
Meanwhile, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was thinking even bigger than the back to school plan, and is asking the government for a plan to keep Ontario open in the event that there’s a fourth wave. “Doug Ford’s reopening plan is to have no plan at all. He’s jeopardizing Ontario’s reopening by not planning ahead to prevent a fourth wave,” Del Duca said.
“It’s time for Ontario to require mandatory vaccination for any frontline worker in healthcare or education, while ensuring the mandate adheres to the Ontario Human Rights Code. This is about protecting our most vulnerable, keeping schools open, and keeping our economy open,” Del Duca added. “It’s important that we continue educational efforts, working with workers, employers and unions to help communities – particularly racialized communities struggling to increase vaccination rates – overcome vaccine hesitancy, and not simply give up on protecting them from COVID-19.”
For his part, Ford told reporters on Monday that Education Minister Stephen Lecce, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore are coming up with “a strong plan” and that it was “going to be out very, very shortly.”
“We’re going to make sure the kids are going back to school in September,” Ford said. “They’re going to be in class. I want to repeat that they’re going back. Even if I have to hop in that school bus and drive it myself, the kids are going to be going back to school.”