Back to school plan sparks both fear and praise from Ontario parents

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Parents and teachers in Ontario have started planning back to school now that the province has released its plan for September, with some expressing concerns the strategy does not do enough to protect children from the threat of COVID-19 .The Ontario Parent Action Network says the Progressive Conservative government has “abandoned” students rather than helping them get back to class safely, while the province’s four major teachers’ unions say the plan is implementing jeopardize the safety of staff and students.

The plan, announced yesterday by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, will see elementary and many high school students return to school full time in September.

Parents can also choose to keep their children out of the classroom, and school boards must provide distance learning options.

Kathleen Katz, whose six-year-old daughter is entering second grade, says she is particularly concerned that the government’s plan is not reducing elementary class sizes.

She says the standard class size makes it impossible to maintain physical distancing protocols that health officials consider essential to protect against the novel coronavirus.

“There was not enough information or protection for our children,” she said. “I’m afraid to send my daughter. I’m afraid for my friends who are teachers. Not all teachers are young. ”

But some parents said they were thrilled with the government’s announcement, including Joanna Cabral, whose two sons go to school in Peel Region.

Cabral said his children, aged eight and 16, were struggling to learn online. A return to school is good news for his family.

“They need this structure,” she said. “And honestly, I don’t think the government would send our kids back to school if they didn’t feel safe. “

Concern over the province’s new masking requirement

Cabral’s eldest son, who will be in grade 11, will only be in school half the time because Peel is one of two dozen boards where high schoolers will attend class part-time in cohorts of 15.

She said it was better than nothing as her mental health deteriorated during the lockdown.

But its only concern is the province’s new masking requirement, which states that students in grades 4 and up must wear a face covering when attending class or spending time in common areas.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be for the kids,” she said. “It’s very difficult to wear a mask. ”

Teachers’ unions, meanwhile, called the plan underfunded and half-baked.

“Restaurants, grocery stores and gyms will have more safety restrictions in place than elementary schools given the insufficient funding allocated in this plan,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation from Ontario.

Josephine Fong, a high school teacher, says she has many concerns about the back-to-school plan.

“What’s a little intimidating is not knowing what this program will look like,” Fong told CBC News.

“They also suggested the idea that high schools should seek to keep students who I guess take the same subjects together… and so to me that means they want schools to reprogram and reprogram everyone… and c is a really huge task.

Fong said another concern is that the Education Ministry has not given enough details on what the classes will look like for high school students.

Meanwhile, Fong’s daughter Cindy Law says she “feels excited about going back to school.”

“This plan is a failure”, declares the president of the OSSTF

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, says the announcement left parents and teachers in a state of anxiety.

“In accordance with a long model of this government, this ministry, it is too little too late,” Bischof told CBC News.

“This does not come close to meeting the needs that we will face as we return to face-to-face education in September, and it will leave parents, students and educators in a state of continued anxiety. ”

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, says the government’s back-to-school plan will fail. (Michael Wilson / CBC)

Bischof said the ministry was ignoring recent guidelines from SickKids, which designated smaller class sizes as “the top strategy for a safe return to school.”

“They have ignored this and there is no effort to bring in sufficient staff to reduce the size of these classes and that means from the start that this plan is a failure,” Bischof said.

“In the designated areas, it’s in cohorts of 15; in non-designated areas these classes can easily have 30 or more students and I haven’t seen anything like it [says] that’s an appropriate way to go in the report of the very medical experts that this department claims to rely on. ”

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