Windsor-Essex teacher representatives confused, frustrated with Ontario school plan

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The provincial government has announced that in-person classes for all elementary and secondary students will resume on Wednesday, January 5.

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The province’s much-anticipated decision on schooling in the new year – which will see students return to class on Wednesday instead of Monday – did not reassure teacher representatives in Windsor-Essex.

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“We never get any information until these announcements are made,” said Erin Roy, District 9 president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

“I am confused. I feel incredibly frustrated with this government. They have been very disrespectful to the entire education sector throughout this pandemic.”

After weeks of uncertainty, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, announced Thursday that in-person classes in schools will resume, but on January 5 instead of January 3.

Moore said the purpose of the two-day deadline is to give school boards more time to put in place COVID-19 prevention measures – such as additional high efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) units – by response to the increase in the number of cases caused by the Omicron Variant.

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Earlier Thursday, the Ministry of Health reported a record 13,807 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. An estimated 30.5% of COVID-19 tests performed in Ontario come back as positive.

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  2. Mario Spagnuolo, President of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, in front of the ETFO offices in Tecumseh on December 15, 2021.

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Moore said the Ontario government will provide an additional 3,000 HEPA filtration units to school boards, on top of the 70,000 units already in place.

Ontario will also provide N95 masks for school staff and triple-layer fabric masks for students, Moore said.

Other temporary measures include restricting indoor sports and extracurricular activities in schools to safe, low-contact options – putting high-risk transmission programs such as group music practices on hold.

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Roy said she supports and prefers face-to-face learning for students. But she remains concerned about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant in schools.

“They say we’re prepared for this, but I’m not sure we are,” Roy said.

When asked if the announced measures gave him better peace of mind, Roy replied, “If I’m being honest… what they say to the public doesn’t come to fruition on the front lines.

“It’s never in a timely fashion. What are we going to do in a two day period? Do I know that a member of my staff will have N95 masks before going to school on Monday? (The teachers start two days before the students.) We have no idea.

An entrance to Vincent Massey High School in Windsor is shown in this 2017 file photo.
An entrance to Vincent Massey High School in Windsor is shown in this 2017 file photo. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario in Greater Essex, said teacher federations had advocated with the government for N95 masks since the start of the pandemic.

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“Now (the government) is making this announcement on the Thursday before the end of the recess, with very little consultation on the implementation,” Spagnuolo said. “It is just a testament to the government’s lack of respect for educators and the lack of forethought or planning. “

“It is unrealistic to think that in 48 hours they will be able to provide these masks to every educator in Ontario who needs them and put a HEPA filter in every classroom that needs it.”

Spagnuolo said there were many elementary teachers in Windsor-Essex still awaiting access to rapid antigen test kits and third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. “None of this has been made a priority for educators, who will be working in collective environments with unvaccinated or partially vaccinated students. “

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Emelda Byrne, director of education for the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board, said her board was thrilled at the news that in-person classes would resume in the new year.

“We really want the children to come back safe and sound,” she said, noting that WECDSB families have been reminded to be rigorous in screening for symptoms.

However, Byrne said Thursday the Catholic council has yet to receive additional HEPA filters from the Education Department, and she expects it will take “the next two weeks” for the masks to arrive. N95 – which are on order across the province.

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