Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Parents should have plan B for school: Teachers’ Association

The head of Ontario’s largest teachers’ union says parents should be prepared for interruptions when schools return to in-person learning next week.

“They should have a plan B,” Karen Brown, president of the Ontario Elementary Teachers Association, told Newstalk 580 CFRA on Tuesday.

“We know we are seeing massive disruption to school systems across America due to staff illness and isolation,” she told Ottawa at the Works Leslie Roberts. “What if our members are sick and students are ill? Who will replace our members?”

Ontario schools are reopening for in-person learning on January 17, a government spokesman confirmed Monday night.

The province delayed returning to school mainly by equipping more classrooms with HEPA filters and sending N95 masks for staff.

Both English school boards in Ottawa have received shipments of masks.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board was one of the first to receive non-fit-tested N95 masks for staff. A spokesman said on Tuesday that 2,1500 masks were distributed last week. Employees can choose to wear either N95 or medical masks. The province also supplied three-ply cloth masks for students that are available for free.

The Ottawa-Carlton District School Board was still waiting. As of last week, they were still waiting for 80 additional HEPA filters.

The Catholic Board states that all of its schools already meet or exceed the province’s HVAC standards.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Tuesday that 9.1 million non-fitted N95 masks and 40 lakh three-ply masks for employees have been dispatched so far.

He said in a statement that the province is “deploying an additional 3,000 standalone HEPA filter units” to school boards, but did not say whether they had been shipped yet.

“We are preparing for the return of in-class learning on Monday, January 17, as much as we can to improve ventilation, provide high-quality PPE, and expand access to vaccinations,” he said.

Brown said the union is concerned about how the rapid spread of the Omicron version will be delivered to safer schools.

“If students are sick, learning won’t happen, and if teachers are sick it’s not going to happen,” she said. “It’s going to be disrupted. I think we need to take some time, get it right and make a long-term plan.

“We want to return, but we want to return safely.”

The province is changing how it handles testing and case tracking in schools before returning to class next week.

According to a new provincial guidance document, parents should no longer expect notifications for positive cases identified in their child’s classroom.

“Given the widespread transmission and the inability to test all symptomatic individuals, schools will not regularly notify students/pupils with a positive case, or if any child/student or staff is absent due to symptoms associated with COVID-19, “The Guidance states.

Also, students will be eligible for free PCR test only if they develop symptoms in school. Last time, schools offered PCR self-collection kits to children with symptoms who were in contact with them and even to the entire school population if an outbreak was declared.

Lecce is due to make an announcement on Wednesday about preparations to return to in-person learning.

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