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Students won’t return to class before year’s end

June’s arrival would normally mark the final countdown to the school year, with kids looking forward to leaving their classrooms behind them. But they’ve already done that, and they won’t be returning until September.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday schools will remain shuttered for the rest of the year, with in-person learning on hold until after the summer.

The issue was front and center when Ford last week addressed a letter to health experts and teachers’ organizations soliciting their opinions on the benefits and risks of reopening schools in June. He ultimately decided against the advice offered by experts, including the province’s top doctor.

“Keeping children safe is our foremost consideration, which is why as experts in health, public health and education we are seeking your perspective,” wrote Ford.

The letter outlines some main questions and concerns the province has in regards to the safety of teachers and students, the possibility of increasing case counts if schools do open and if teachers should be fully vaccinated before resuming in-class lessons.

The issue was raised Tuesday by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, when he argued schools should be one of the first things to reopen.

“Ideally, I’d like the schools open before we enter step one of our exit strategy,” said Williams of the post-pandemic period.

School boards and educators have been planning for all contingencies.

“During this school year, we have moved our system between in-person and remote learning, and so we are confident in our ability to work with any potential framework for doing so as directed by the ministry,” explained Ross Howey, communications officer for the Waterloo Region District School Board.

Talk of reopening schools had some teachers concerned about the possibility of further transmission of the COVID-19 virus, however.

“We’ve wanted in-person learning all along, but safely and sustainably,” said Greg Weiler, president the Waterloo local of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. “I think we’re really both disappointed and surprised that for over a year this government hasn’t approached us, or any education stakeholders, in advance of decisions and asked for input.”

For educators, the short notice of changes to their classroom environment poses challenges, with teachers required to make quick edits to their lesson plans.

“What you plan and do when you have students in-person isn’t and can’t be the same as what you have to plan and do when they’re at home in front of a computer,” said Weiler. “And there really hasn’t been a lot of transition time provided.”

It’s not just teachers who feel the stress of having to prepare to re-open at a moment’s notice. Janitors, bus drivers and office administrators would also benefit from advanced warning, he said.

“There’s just no communication in advance about these decisions,” said Weiler. “It puts an unnecessary and a big strain on the system at all levels.”

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