Some parents are expressing frustration at a lack of details and guidance in an Ontario back-to-school plan they say doesn’t match the reality of the classroom.
The Ontario government released the 29-page plan Tuesday afternoon, detailing what a return to full-time in-class learning in September will look like.
It requires students and staff wear masks indoors, but not that they be vaccinated. Extracurricular activities can return and remote learning remains an option.
The plan has been rebuked by opposition parties and unions as inadequate and some parents agree.
“It’s a lot of the same on fancy letterhead,” said Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils. “This is a non-plan.”
She feels more emphasis needs to be on when testing will be mandatory, especially given the rapid spread of the more contagious delta variant.
Hendala is also concerned about the lack of announced funding to pay for the same COVID-19 protections put in place last school year and new ones being mandated, like high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter units.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced $25 million for filtration systems Wednesday morning.
Mary Crowe, a parent of two elementary school-age children who teaches kindergarten at Ottawa’s Connaught Public School, is also worried about the more contagious delta variant.
It was identified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization just ahead of what would be the last week of in-person learning in Ontario in early April.
Crowe said the past school year has shown it’s all but impossible to have a single teacher with a cohort of elementary school students, let alone keep them physically distanced with current class sizes.
“The bottom line here is we’re still going to have … 30 kids squished into one little classroom,” she said.
“I’m not sure that we won’t see it rip through classroom after classroom this fall.”
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said the province’s approach allows for some flexibility for local health units.
“We’re always going to re-evaluate and there’s always going to be the ability locally to modify, to add restrictions, depending on local situations,” he said.
Since children under the age of 12 are still ineligible for a shot, he said it’s especially important to ensure everyone around them is vaccinated to provide an “extra ring of protection.”
“It’s quite important to say that, you know, kids need this face-to-face [time] at school.”
Despite what she sees as flaws in the province’s plan, Crowe also wants kids back in the classroom, as long as it’s safe.
“I desperately want schools to be open for myself, my own family, my kids and every other parent and student in Ontario, but I do not want to see kids getting seriously ill.”