School Boards Give Ontario’s COVID Plan and Internet Access a Failing Grade

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Local school board leaders are urging the Ontario government to make major changes to protect students and staff from COVID-19 and support students without sufficient internet access.

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In an open letter released Friday to the media, Director of Education Tom Dall writes about the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board’s “frustration with the recent change in provincial protocols regarding the management of COVID-19. 19 in the schools, and once again the total absence of consultation with the school boards.

Dall’s lengthy letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce lays out what he and board trustees cite as the government’s many shortcomings.

“Contrary to your comments on social media, there has been absolutely no consultation with administrator associations, directors of education or unions for that matter on this significant change in practice,” Dall told Lecce.

Removing the old case and contact management system puts board and school administrators “in legal jeopardy,” he writes.

After cases of the Omicron variant exceeded Ontario’s ability to perform lab testing for each case, the government ended, among other things, its practice of public reporting of cases. The latest plan “lacks the transparency of the system that has worked well and maintained public trust throughout the pandemic,” Dall writes.

The council covers 16,000 km2. and many counties and rural populations – and many residents lack reliable, high-speed Internet access.

Its administrators are calling on the province to work with Internet service providers and others to resolve this problem.

“Our families in rural areas suffer from a major disadvantage when opting for remote learning,” the letter states.

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“If you expect to support families in long-term remote learning, adequate funding and infrastructure are needed to address inequities.”

It also calls on Ontario to give PCR and rapid antigen test kits to students and staff with symptoms of COVID-19 before they enter schools and to continue funding rapid tests for all students and staff. The government’s plan is to provide PCR kits only to those who develop symptoms at a school.

Dall writes that he and the council appreciate the delivery of untested N95 masks for staff, but want students to have the same level of protection, not the three-ply masks that must be provided.

“The current funding model does not allow for additional staff to be hired as demand for remote learning increases. Our council has a threshold in this area and after that families will be disadvantaged by being placed in an asynchronous learning environment,” Dall writes.

Ontario’s Immunization of School Students Act (ISPA) does not require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or other illnesses. However, it requires families to provide a record of a student’s vaccination status for several illnesses, but not for COVID-19.

“We have reviewed the inclusion of COVID-19 in the ISPA and have found that this would currently place an additional burden on local public health agencies, parents and students,” said the Chief Medical Officer of Health. ‘Ontario, Dr. Kieran Moore, in October.

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He also said the government had tried to ensure that health units had records of a given student’s COVID-19 vaccination status.

The local Catholic council, however, is asking the government to change the law to include COVID-19 as a compulsory vaccination.

“We ask you in the strongest terms to return to the old case and contact management system. This includes transparently reporting known positive cases of COVID-19 in schools and sharing this information with families. .

Friday’s letter follows one sent Monday by Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board chair Shannon Binder to Premier Doug Ford. This letter also asks for more support for rural internet and early grades when students are in schools. The letter stems from a special board meeting held on January 3.

“Our students are grouped in our classrooms in groups of 24 or more. This number is particularly concerning at lunchtime when masks are removed to eat and drink,” Binder writes.

“We ask that you take steps to reduce class sizes to mitigate exposure and increase opportunities for true physical distancing. Given the immediate availability of staff and space, this may include alternate or half-day attendance or other creative measures to increase distancing and safety for our students and staff.

Binder notes that the council in 2020 identified gaps in internet service, but the situation has not improved.

“We urge you to consider our families who are marginalized due to this lack of connection during remote learning and to work with your peers to address this need and ensure greater access to services.”

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