August 9, 2022

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Masters Of Education

All students switching to online learning for at least two weeks

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The scramble to arrange child care and technical support is on as students and families  just learned Monday that the Ontario government was pushing education back to online only for at least the next two weeks.  

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Facing a vertical surge of COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, Premier Doug Ford announced the delay to in-person learning along with a number of other virus-related restrictions Monday, just 48 hours before K-12 schools were scheduled to reopen.  

This will give us time to get some of those safety measures in place

Last Thursday, the Ford government said in-person learning would only be delayed two days, with a post-holiday restart planned for this Wednesday.   

“Parents are frustrated, teachers are frustrated and our kids are frustrated, they really wanted to go back to school,” said Mario Spagnuolo, the local Greater Essex president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “We do believe the decision today is much safer than the decision made on Thursday.”

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Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, stands outside ETFO offices in Tecumseh on Dec. 15, 2021.
Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, stands outside ETFO offices in Tecumseh on Dec. 15, 2021. Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

Spagnuolo said a two-day delay to in-person learning wasn’t sufficient for the safety of educators and students.  

“That’s just not reasonable without having N95 masks, HEPA filters and there are no rapid tests for staff,” Spagnuolo said. “And many of our educators have not been able to get a booster shot. They’re still in line waiting because there’s such a backlog. This will give us time to get some of those safety measures in place.”   

The government had previously announced it would supply N95 masks to educators in the face of a much more transmissible variant and an additional 3,000 HEPA filters for schools across the province.  

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board expected a shipment of N95 masks Tuesday and they’ll receive an additional 30 HEPA filters. The Greater Essex County District School Board expected N95 masks for staff to arrive by Friday, if not sooner according to director of education Erin Kelly.  

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Kelly said the board had also been allocated additional HEPA filters. She noted Monday’s announcement was made out of “alarm and concern with the spread of this variant.”  

Ford said students would be online until at least Jan. 17 when the stability of the health-care system would be reassessed.  

“I know online learning is not ideal,” Ford said. “We want to protect students and teachers.”
Emelda Byrne, the director of education for the Catholic board, called the switch to remote learning “prudent and cautious.”  

“It’s a decision that is in the best interests of staff, students and families,” Byrne said. “Hopefully remote learning is only for this short time.”  

Byrne noted that due to the dramatic increase in case counts “I feel it would have become an operational issue for our board to adequately staff our classrooms due to increased absenteeism,” if in-person learning resumed this week.  

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Administration from both boards met with principals Monday.  

“One of the things we have to do is communicate with parents and staff about processes and ensure people have the necessary devices for remote learning,” Kelly said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath quickly slammed Ford’s latest pandemic plan.  

“Parents are horrified — another school shutdown is a massive blow to kids’ wellbeing,’ Horwath said in a statement.  

This marks the third time students have been driven to online learning since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario advocated for a short delay to in-person learning but noted “this shift to remote learning is frustrating because we know it could have been avoided had the province funded and implemented safety measures at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, not half measures,” said President Karen Brown.  

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Ford didn’t answer a reporter’s question Monday about whether he would fortify safety measures in schools during the ensuing two-week period.  

Barb Dobrowski, the President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, called on the government to use these next weeks to prioritize boosters for educators, get rapid tests in schools, provide N95s for all, reinstate case counting and hold student vaccination clinics.  

“Throughout the pandemic, the Ford government has opted for a wait-and-see approach to COVID-19, and then scrambled to make last-minute decisions that offer little more than half-measures,” Dobrowski said in a statement. “Today’s decision, coming just four days after their last ‘plan’ was announced, was entirely avoidable. This is yet again another reactionary measure in a long list that stems from this government’s abdication of leadership, which has repeatedly failed students, parents, teachers, education workers, and all Ontarians.”  

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Annie Kidder, the executive director for People for Education, took to social media to encourage vaccine mandates for staff and students and the establishment of a COVID education advisory committee comprised of health and education experts.   

Both St. Clair College and the University of Windsor had previously announced a delay to in-person learning until later in January.

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