The following ETFO media release was posted on January 6, 2021.
Given that the government has failed in their responsibility to protect Ontarians, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is calling upon Medical Officers of Health, in public health units across Ontario, to do what they have been entrusted to do—to prioritize community health and safety over politics.
“Educators know that in-person learning provides the most effective and equitable learning environment, but unfortunately we are at the height of this pandemic. It makes no sense for the government to send students, teachers and education workers back to school while the province is locked for another two to three weeks,” said Sam Hammond, President of ETFO. “Despite repeated calls for adequate safety measures, the government has refused to implement them in a misguided effort to save money, jeopardizing the health and safety of students, educators and their families.”
With vaccines slowly being rolled out, we must ensure that we do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable, especially as we can see the end of these challenging times in the months ahead.
Noted Hammond, “The provincial government’s failure to listen to the advice of medical professionals has resulted in the current crisis we are facing. So now, we are asking Public Health Units to use their authority to reconsider the decision to resume in-person learning for all elementary students on January 11, particularly in communities where the rate of community transmission is high, and to implement asymptomatic surveillance testing in schools to ensure that we can better understand the role that schools are playing in the spread of the virus and base future decisions on sound data.”
“There’s a 10 per cent daily increase in ICU occupancy in Ontario right now. This is not the right time to restart in-person learning,” said Dr. David Fisman, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Toronto. “We have to assume that there is a lot of asymptomatic COVID-19 in schools. It is irresponsible to send children and educators back to schools without knowing for sure that it is safe to do so.”
ETFO continues to demand that the provincial government provide much-needed supports to families, especially during periods when schools are closed to in-person attendance. “We also continue our advocacy to ensure that the government acknowledge and address the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on marginalized communities, in particular racialized and low-income families,” said Hammond.
A safe return cannot be ensured unless urgent and immediate actions are taken to implement a safety plan that reduces class sizes, improves ventilation, and introduces broad in-school asymptomatic testing when in-person attendance resumes.