The Ontario Ministry of Education is expected to announce details of the return to in-person learning on Wednesday, but recent changes to its guidelines for school reporting have parents and teachers concerned about a lack of information on the presence of COVID-19.
The prime minister’s office has confirmed a return to classrooms from Monday, but new interim guidelines say public health units will not routinely notify students of a positive case or person’s self-isolating due to symptoms of COVID.
This could have implications for the spread of the virus among staff and families trying to decide whether to send their children back to classrooms in person, according to Melaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa School Boards Association. Carleton.
She says the province needs to be much clearer on what this means and what measures are in place.
“Schools should be open, but they must be safe for our children,” said Hendela.
Hendela says she is worried that parents are not aware of recent changes to interim guidelines for schools and if their child is exposed to someone with COVID-19.
The updated guidelines also state that public health units will no longer reject cohorts, but will instead leave the care to schools and school boards based on their operational needs.
Prepare for school closures, union says
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario says it is unsure of how schools are safer than when the decision to delay opening was made, and the union believes that disturbances remain probable.
“I think parents need to be prepared for school closures, staff disruptions, there is not enough staff,” union president Karen Brown said.
Pat Dixon, president of the Ottawa Carleton Elementary Casual Teachers Association, says the lack of case reports will create difficult situations for teachers called upon to replace, especially because they have no sick leave benefits.
“As a substitute teacher, I don’t want to be called for a job or choose a job on the job board without knowing how many cases of COVID are in this building,” Dixon said.
“I have to stay healthy to have an income.”
Her union does not have information on how many members are available, but it does have a list of 1,500 potential replacements, she said.
On-the-go PCR test kits always available
Dixon said the new guidelines gave him the impression that authorities were no longer trying to limit the spread of the virus.
“It’s almost like we’ve decided it’s not a pandemic anymore, it’s an endemic, and we’re going to live with it,” she said.
In a statement, Ottawa Public Health said it is still studying the new guidelines and that take-home PCR test kits are still available for staff and students who develop symptoms of COVID-19 at school.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday that the delay in reopening in-person schooling allowed for expedited vaccinations and reminders for school staff, faster delivery of tests from the federal government and the distribution of N95 masks for school personnel.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board has reported a shortage of teachers, early childhood educators and educational assistants, and says it has 450 casual workers to cover assignments.
The Catholic council has created a “class supervisor position” when a qualified educator is not available to cover a class.
When no other option is available, classes may be canceled for upper secondary students or, in some cases, entire classes, classes and schools may be transferred to distance learning during COVID outbreaks -19. The Catholic council’s statement also says the ministry has allowed rotating schools to switch to distance learning to reduce demands for casual staff.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board declined to comment before the ministry made its announcement.