Lecce’s Return to School Plan: Does Not Meet Provincial Standard; Needs Improvement
During a global pandemic, the Ford government's plan to re-open schools fails to prioritize the safety of students, staff, and educators. The Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council (OTCC) is concerned that the announcement made by the Ford government today fails to adequately address the key issues of class sizes, proper funding for staffing, and personal protective equipment for all students.
As the future educators of Ontario, we are in schools, in classrooms, and teaching students across Ontario. We see consistently overcrowded classrooms where the number of students can outweigh the number of available desks and chairs. For a safe return to school during an active pandemic, class sizes need to be reduced to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, to provide a classroom environment that is conducive to learning, and to ease students back into the classroom by making available all of the supports and protections they deserve.
The Ford government’s plan for re-opening schools fails to address class sizes by returning them to the status quo in September. President of the Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council, Brittney Vandersel says; “Class sizes in Ontario can be upwards of thirty students in a very small instructional space. It is unacceptable to continue to overcrowd students and educators in their learning spaces, especially during a global pandemic. It is a lackluster plan that does not prioritize safety.”
While the funding announced July 30, 2020, by the Ford government is welcomed, more funding for teaching positions and support staff is required. Additionally, this funding comes from the cuts made by the PC government in the previous school year. If the Ford government properly funds the return to school, then school boards can provide adequate staffing to support the smaller in-person classes required to reduce the risk of virus transmission and keep students, teachers, teacher candidates, and staff safe.
If we shortchange our students now, the impact on their futures will be long-lasting. The pandemic will end and the heavy financial impact will pass; however, an investment in students here and now will preserve their futures and their health. As our understanding of this virus evolves, we are seeing longer lasting health issues that could potentially be chronic. This is an enormous gamble with the health of our educational communities.
Despite what Minister Lecce says, the overt lack of communication between the Ford government and all four teacher unions demonstrates an unwillingness by the Ford government to work with the education community to develop a comprehensive plan that considers student safety and the enormous role teachers play in supporting student development both within and beyond the classroom. There has been no mention from the Ministry of what Teacher Candidates in Faculties across Ontario should expect with regard to their practicum placements and how they will be kept safe while meeting the requirements of the Ontario College of Teachers for their certificates of qualification.
Ford’s plan falls short by recommending personal protective equipment for grades 4-12 with 1-meter of physical distancing, but not for junior kindergarten through grade 3, where physical distancing is most challenging. Many regions in Ontario have mandatory mask requirements for indoor spaces and a 2-meter physical distancing recommendation; schools should be no exception. Student safety should be of the highest priority. Face-to-face classes involve collaborative learning, group work, and small group instruction. All of these approaches to teaching and learning form the core of good educational practice; however, physical distancing in these contexts is simply not possible.
The knowledge experts have about COVID-19 is constantly changing and even the most exhaustive research is only scratching the surface. By making decisions based on little evidence, the Ford government is jeopardizing student and staff safety. By taking appropriate precautions and implementing consistent measures in all schools, and by consulting with education stakeholders, we can limit the spread of COVID-19 without compromising the quality of education. According to OTCC Communications Officer, Johan Kromhout, “There is no clear plan in place for what happens in the event of confirmed cases in schools or other educational environments. We don’t have any clear protocols in place for these situations and the multitude of questions ringing from the parent community and from teachers has gone largely unanswered. What happens if there is a confirmed case in a class? Do students and teachers go into 2 weeks of quarantine to isolate the case? Is there a system of contact tracing in place? Will occasional teachers (substitutes) be limited to one school in the same way that nurses and staff at long-term care facilities are limited? Can teachers refuse to work if they feel the conditions are unsafe for them or their families without fear of punitive measures? Will the Ministry of Education accept modifications to practicum placements for certification requirements given the circumstances and alternative Bachelor of Education program deliveries? These are only a few of the questions that have been unanswered.”
The OTCC is concerned that re-opening schools by returning to the status quo with minimal protective measures will not be enough to keep teacher candidates in Ontario, as well as our students, support staff, and educators safe. We want to see smaller classes without compromising student access to instruction, funding for more staff to support in-class and online cohorts, and more personal protective equipment measures put in place. Ford's meager measures assume that all students and parents understand the gravity of COVID-19 and are prepared to return to the status quo responsibly. By going back to school with minimal protective precautions, and a distinct lack of a plan, highlighting the gravity of our current situation to students will be a monumental task and the resulting damage could have irreparable consequences.
Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council,
For more information please contact
Johan Kromhout, Executive Communications Officer (OTCC) via email at email@example.com