Teacher’s union not consulted on latest government decision for online learning

By Kirk Winter

Teacher's union not consulted on latest government decision for online learning
Students are back learning online for at least two weeks.

As Kawartha Lakes students begin at least two weeks of virtual instruction today, the union representative for high school teachers said he is frustrated about being shut out of key decisions being made by the Ministry of Education about the best way to keep both their members and students safe.

When asked if there had been any consultation regarding the latest school closures, Craig Horsley, president of District 15 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation said throughout the course “of the entire pandemic, there has been no meaningful consultation with unions around policy and procedures at the provincial level.”

“And when these significant public education policies are made, the union and the board hear about changes at the same time during the press conferences without advance notice.”

The decision made by the Ford government to change the policies around tracking and testing COVID cases is problematic, he says, and affects the ability to gather accurate data about the spread of COVID in the local area.

Horsley said everyone should be concerned “that too often medical and public health decisions are made for political reasons,” especially given this is an election year.

“When June’s election rolls around, I think everyone needs to take a hard look at how this government has responded to the crisis and remember how so many of the policies in education were reactionary, hastily improvised and poorly implemented,” he said.

The union rep noted that even two years into the pandemic “the list (of OSSTF safety concerns) continues to grow through government inaction and indecision.”

“Simple policies such as prioritizing education workers for booster shots would be effective and easily implemented. Certain education staff are in our buildings as of Jan. 3 working with our highest need students.”

Other OSSTF priorities for safer schools include: reduced class sizes to promote physical distancing, N95 masks delivered to worksites immediately, add COVID-19 to the list of designated diseases under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, increase the level of vaccinations in the TLDSB school community promoting the importance of vaccinations for students, improve air quality metrics and standards in all classrooms and public spaces in schools, provide the best possible masks to all students, implement stricter screening and isolation requirements, provide educational workers  with regular access to Rapid Antigen testing and prioritizing PCR test accessibility for staff and students and finally for the province to reconsider the decrease in the isolation period from 10 to five days, as doing so unnecessarily reintroduces the virus into school settings.

Regarding the potential of Omicron to scupper the board’s plan to return to a regular semester schedule as of Feb. 7 Horsley said as of today the plan is to continue with semestered classes.

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