The President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) local branch says teachers are apprehensive heading into the school year during a pandemic. She also called Premier Doug Ford’s message to teachers unions yesterday ’insulting.’
“It’s time for teachers to step up,” Ford told the media on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. “Everyone else has sacrificed. I differentiate between the great teachers we have in this province and the union that has wanted to fight with every government we’ve had for the past fifty years. I can tell you my patience is running low.”
Jane Roberts is President of the ETFO Limestone local. “Teachers have always stepped up and continue to step up to do their job, going above and beyond,” Roberts said. “When Ford says ‘step up’ it’s just insulting to teachers as professionals.”
Roberts said the ETFO has been working closely with the local school board to try to prepare for the school year, which starts with a staggered intake on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.
“The government has put everybody in a tough situation,” she said.
“We still have a lot of concerns around social distancing and how we’re going to do that in the classroom,” she added.
Roberts noted the decision to implement masking for all elementary students, approved this week by Limestone District School Board (LDSB) and Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB), is a positive development. But, there are still outstanding safety concerns heading into the year.
Roberts said ventilation also remains a major concern.
“We have schools that can’t even open their windows. Or if they do, they’re open maybe an inch or two. We have classrooms with windows that open from the bottom out only, and we all know those windows don’t get any type of breeze going through,” she added.
LDSB voted unanimously on Wednesday, Aug. 25, to prioritize ventilation improvements above all other school renewal projects. They’ve also requested a staff report on the purchase of stand-alone HEPA air filters for windowless classrooms.
The provincial government announced plans to unlock additional funding for ventilation improvements in schools earlier this month.
Roberts said upgrades will now have to be made while students and teachers are in the schools, which could be disruptive. “The government has had all summer to address these concerns,” she said.
Politicians ‘have no idea what goes on in a classroom’
The federal government also announced $2 billion in new funding for schools across the country this week, though it still is unclear how the money will benefit individual boards and schools.
With the start of the school year just days away, Roberts said she is hopeful the funding translates into smaller class sizes.
“I think that everyone is apprehensive about going back to the classroom,” Roberts said. “Teachers, yes they’re frontline workers. But they’re going to be in a room with children contained for six hours. There’s not going to be a plexiglass shield in front of a teacher, no standard for physical distancing. It is not possible with class sizes the way they are.”
“They [Doug Ford & Stephen Lecce] have no idea what goes on in a classroom, or how small some of these classrooms are,” she added.
On Thursday, Aug. 13, Ontario’s four major teachers’ unions including the ETFO sent an affiliate letter to the Ministry of Education, calling for more action on safe school reopening.
“Ontario is in the midst of a global pandemic where there is no conclusive science on how severely COVID-19 may infect children, the rate at which children may transmit the virus, how the virus presents in children versus adults, its longitudinal consequences for children, or how transmission interacts with indoor environmental factors such as ventilation and air flow,” the letter read.
Roberts said she think the letter accurately captured the apprehension felt by teachers across the province, including those in Kingston.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, addressed teacher concerns when he spoke at a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, Aug, 27, 2020.
“I don’t think they’ll be at more risk than other people if they do all the infection control practices,” he said. “You do what you need to do, every time, all the time, and [remain] aware that you will not be at risk.”
Roberts said adhering to such practices is not that simple. “How do you tell a four year-old that they can’t hug their friend?” she asked. “It’s going to be really difficult.”