Knives Already Out for Ontario Government’s Back to School Plan

Although it will not be formally announced until Wednesday, Ontario’s opposition parties are already unimpressed with the Government of Ontario’s back to school plan. No Ontario school students have received in-person learning since the end of March due to the third wave of COVID-19, and opposition politicians are concerned that the government is showing a dearth of pre-planning just one month ahead of the new school year.

At a media briefing today, chief medical officer health Dr. Kieran Moore unveiled the key details of the plan including masks indoors for all staff and teachers, as well as all students in Grade 1 and above. All staff and students will have to screen themselves everyday for COVID symptoms, but there will be no vaccine mandates for teachers, staff, or students who are 12 years or older.

Common areas like the library and the cafeteria will be allowed to re-open, while field trips, team sports, assemblies, and after school activities will be allow to recommence. Music programs will be allowed with some conditions like co-horting and/or allowing practice in areas with good ventilation, and students will be allowed to take outdoor recess and be unmasked while doing so.

For high school students, they will have to persevere with the quadmester model with no more than two courses at a time for the length of the fall semester. Apparently, this is being done in case emergency restrictions need to be enacted, and school boards will be required to come up with planes to pivot to online learning if the situation warrants it, but the one thing that the 29-page plan doesn’t include is a list of conditions that would initiate those emergency measures.

“I really don’t see our schools closing,” Moore assured, “I think we have to normalize COVID-19 for schools,” like the same way schools have to be prepared for cold and flu season, he added.

Opposition leaders were less than impressed by the informal announcement.

“Doug Ford is cutting $800 million from schools for this school year, which means penny pinching on the safety plan,” said official opposition leader Andrea Horwath. “He’s allowing jam-packed classrooms again. He’s not taking any new actions to get kids vaccinated or help them recover, academically or emotionally. He’s rolling the dice with our kids’ wellbeing.”

Howath was in Brantford Tuesday morning to announce that former Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) president Harvey Bischof will be running for the NDP there in the next Provincial election. Never one to mince words, Bischof said that the Ford government has choosing to cheap out on the back to school plan.

“Doug Ford has to make a choice,” Bischof said. “He can invest what it takes to get class sizes down, get ventilation standards up, and make sure parents have the paid sick days they need to keep kids with symptoms at home. Or he can keep trying to save a buck on the backs of students, teachers, education workers, families, and our province’s progress in the fight against COVID-19.”

Green Party of Ontario deputy leader Abhijeet Manay noted that there’s a major piece missing from the back to school plan. “It’s crucial that Ford and [education minister Stephen] Lecce address the severe mental health impact the pandemic has had on many kids across Ontario,” Manay said. “That needs to be a cornerstone of the back to school plan.”

“Students have been through so much with the stress and social isolation of online learning. Sadly rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicides among youth have all increased,” added Laura Campbell, Green Party candidate for Dufferin-Caledon.

“Today’s announcement has made clear what we already know to be true — Doug Ford isn’t following the science, and isn’t planning for a safe or supportive return to in-person learning,” said Liberal leader Steven Del Duca who touted his party’s own back to school plan.

“More than one month ago, Ontario Liberals proposed a real plan to get our kids back in classrooms safely and with the support they need,” Del Duca explained. “The plan called for a cap on class sizes at 20, prioritized in-person learning, more mental health support, more support for kids with special needs, and suspending the 2022 EQAO testing.”

Minister Lecce is expected to make a formal announcement about the back to school plan sometime on Wednesday.

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