Northumberland Labour Council Releases Statement Regarding Ontario’s Back to School Plan

August 13, 2021

Northumberland Labour Council releases statement regarding Ontario’s back to school plan

As usual, the school year is set to begin, but there is nothing usual about this year with Covid still a risk to the public’s health. The only thing usual is the Conservatives’ and Stephen Lecce’s apparent lack of concern for our children. The Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, was noticeably absent when Dr. Kieran Moore, the Ontario Chief Medical Officer, introduced the 2021-2022 Back to School Plan during his press conference on August 3rd.  This plan, recycled from the 2020-2021 plan, is contradictory in its details and far more permissive than the previous plan with the return of field trips, school assemblies, music programming and extracurricular activities. Cohorting is present in the classroom, but is abandoned in school-sanctioned activities such as bus travel, school assemblies, mealtimes in cafeterias, and extracurriculars, with some of these activities not requiring masking.

Lecce has had 72 weeks to make a plan that would keep all individuals in a school safe and healthy.  Instead, with a month left before the remainder of Ontario’s students return to school, there are no details regarding outbreaks in school and case management, there is no extra funding to reduce class sizes, there is no extra funding to offer the mandated virtual learning, and there is no extra funding for additional supports to help those students who have experienced difficulties in the last two school years. School boards have been tasked with designing a plan to encourage vaccination rates in the 12 to 17-year-old age bracket. The Minister of Education is putting the health and safety of the approximately 1,131,656 elementary students from JK-6 who are ineligible for vaccination at risk (Number from the 2019-2020 Ministry website).

Class sizes are back to pre-pandemic sizes as there is no funding to keep them lower this year.  Kindergarten and Grades 4 through 12 will often contain more than 30 students. Once again, teachers have been instructed to remove extra furniture so that students can sit 45 cm apart unmasked in some cases. Will these children be safe during those unmasked times?

This ‘plan’ is months late and millions of dollars short. This is clearly putting our kids at risk. Minster of Education Stephen Lecce has said he is listening to the experts, but is he? The Ontario Science Table in conjunction with Sick Kids, CHEO, Unity Health, Holland Bloorview, London Children’s Hospital, McMaster Children’s Hospital, and Kingston Health Sciences Centre issued a plan urging the government to lower class sizes, put proper ventilation in schools, and provide paid sick leave for parents, among many other suggestions. However, as in 2020-2021, Stephen Lecce chose to select the lowest cost items from this plan such as increasing the funding to provide more HEPA filters to deal with the ventilation issues, but HEPA filters and increased MERV filters in HVAC enabled schools are just a temporary fix. Once again, Lecce’s band-aid solutions are the hallmark of the return to school plan while a new and highly transmissible Covid variant is on the rise.

Dan Tobin
Northumberland Labour Council

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