TORONTO – Ontario students, parents and teachers are bracing for yet another virtual education pass after the province announced on Monday that schools would not reopen to in-person classes for at least two weeks due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
Premier Doug Ford announced the switch to distance learning less than a week after his government insisted that in-person classes would resume after just two days of delay. This planned return to class – originally scheduled for Wednesday – will now take place no earlier than January 17, although the province has said that date will be reassessed based on public health indicators.
Ford said the two-week break from in-person classes would provide “much-needed time” for vaccines and public health measures to alleviate the growing number of daily cases, which have reached record levels of more than 18,000 on first day of the new year.
“I know that online learning is not ideal, but above all I want to provide certainty for parents and students, not the turmoil of school closures because there are not enough staff. available to teach our children, ”added the Prime Minister.
The transition to virtual classes had been anticipated in certain circles. Prior to the winter break, several school boards across the province had proactively asked students to bring home their personal effects and electronics as they prepared for the opportunity to switch to distance learning by 2022.
But the latest announcement was still a disappointment for Toronto relative Lauren Bondar, who called the delayed return to schooling in person “really devastating.”
Bondar said her six-year-old had struggled to learn when distance education was done earlier in the pandemic and that she feared another school closure would be just as damaging to her learning.
“We are jeopardizing the education and development of an entire generation,” she said in a telephone interview.
Bondar acknowledged that while she can work from home and look after her son while doing it, not all parents can.
“I am fortunate to work from home and am fortunate to have the flexibility to support him to the best of my ability. And that’s something that many, many, many parents across the province cannot say, ”she said.
Sheamus Murphy, an Ottawa parent of three, including two school-aged children, was also unhappy with Monday’s announcement.
“It’s like it’s preventable and it’s really disappointing,” he said.
“It’s disappointing for my kids, it’s disappointing for the working parents who are going to juggle again and it’s a big loss all around.”
Murphy said it would be a “balancing act” by ensuring his children are set up for virtual learning while he and his wife juggle Zoom calls and other work tasks in the weeks to come. .
The president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents more than 80,000 elementary teachers and education workers across the province, called the school’s delayed closure ” safer ”than the initial plan announced last week.
But Karen Brown said “more action is still needed” from the government to ensure children and educators can return to school safely.
The president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association shared this point of view, saying the government “must use the extra time it has given itself and act to provide the necessary investment in a safe learning environment. “.
“It has been painful to watch our students suffer from repeated disruptions to learning in the classroom, which negatively impacts their mental health and well-being at school,” union president Barb Dobrowolski said in a statement. writing.
“The Ford government must act now and invest the resources necessary for safe and sustainable classroom learning. “
ETFO and OECTA call on the province to implement a series of protective measures, including prioritizing booster injections for all teachers and education workers, making rapid tests available for all the world in schools, improved ventilation and installation of HEPA filters in all classrooms and public spaces, and continued case reporting and tracing in schools. The Education Department released notes last week indicating that it intended to drop the practice of reporting cases in schools and daycares.
A group of children’s hospitals and health care providers also called on the government to do everything possible to get children back to class by January 17, saying members were “saddened” by the decision to move. online courses.
“The harm to children and youth during school closings is significant,” the Children’s Health Coalition said in a statement. “Children and youth with disabilities will no longer have access to in-person rehabilitation services in schools. Virtual learning and the lack of socialization with peers will create significant stress and potential mental health issues for children. Children and young people will congregate in other environments which may be less safe than schools.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 3, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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