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London teachers await back-to-school plans from Ford government as Liberal Party releases its plan

empty classroom getty
A file photo of an empty classroom. File Photo / Getty Images

With the 2021-22 school year scheduled to start in roughly six weeks, teachers are still awaiting confirmation of how learning will look in the age of COVID-19.

The Thames Valley District School Board issued an update on its website on Friday, saying it will be “ready to welcome all students back to school with enhanced public health protocols,” but is also preparing to provide “a blend of in-school and at-home learning” if required.

That same day, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said details about the plan to reopen schools would be coming “next week.” The province first announced in mid-June that it was looking at three potential options for the return to school.

Read more: Ontario school reopening plan, more resources coming next week, education minister says

“There hasn’t been much by way of direction through the month of July — that’s caused a lot of uncertainty,” said Craig Smith, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) for Thames Valley.

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“And I think teachers, like everyone else, recognize that reopening schools is a very big deal.”

Speaking on The Morning Show with Devon Peacock, Smith says ETFO leadership has been in contact with the province and the Thames Valley local has been in contact with the Thames Valley District School Board and relaying members’ concerns to them.

“In fairness to the board, it’s been a bit of a challenge. Yes, they’ve had to create these three scenarios. But until we actually land on something that’s approved by the ministry — and one of the wildcards in this is any plan the boards present have to be approved by the ministry.

“The safest thing would be for people to remain remotely teaching and students remotely learning but we know that that’s hugely problematic and challenging for parents, and certainly is challenging as we move the economy forward to reopening. So, you know, I think we’re going to have to watch this very, very carefully.”

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Smith added that it’s “safe to say that all teachers are nervous,” but he expects that once plans are concrete, there will be teachers “who, for various health reasons, are unable to be in school environments.”

While the Doug Ford government is expected to release more details about its back-to-school plan this week, the Liberal Party of Ontario has issued its own plan.

Read more: Ontario NDP calls on Ford government to boost funding for school reopenings in September

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca says the plan, dubbed the “students in schools action plan,” would cost $3.2 billion and result in 820 new classroom locations, 860 additional educators and 440 additional caretakers in London alone.

“It’s a big price tag but I think the consequences for both our kids and also for our economy, if we don’t get this right, are pretty traumatic.”

The Liberal Party’s plan would involve seeing students return to school full-time but with physical distancing measures in place by way of cutting class sizes to 15, necessitating additional staffing, and conducting some classes in other public spaces like libraries and community centres, possibly even outdoors at the start of the school year.

Read more: Inconsistent funding delays daycare reopening in some Ontario municipalities, group says

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“My wife and I are raising two young girls, we’re going back into elementary school this coming September,” Del Duca told Devon Peacock on The Morning Show.

“I think it’s shocking that we haven’t heard any real clear details by the government so far. But I didn’t just want to criticize the government. I wanted to put forward a plan that said, ‘Here’s what we think it would look like in order to do this safely,’ which in turn helps us with our economic recovery.”

Provincewide, the plan would involve hiring thousands of teachers across the province, but Del Duca believes there are enough qualified teachers to fill those roles.

“In Ontario today, there are about 200,000 certified teachers who are members of the Ontario College of Teachers. In the public system, there are just about 125 to 126,000 teachers teaching in public schools. There’s therefore about 70 to 75,000 teachers who are certified who aren’t currently teaching. Some of them would be in private schools,” he said.

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“But I believe out of that group with that cohort of teachers who are certified, we could find 15,000 elementary and 2,000 secondary teachers who have the certification, who are young enough to not be in any kind of vulnerable position given the pandemic that we’re dealing with.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario to reveal school reopening plan next week, education minister says' Coronavirus: Ontario to reveal school reopening plan next week, education minister says
Coronavirus: Ontario to reveal school reopening plan next week, education minister says

— with a file from Shawn Jeffords and Salmaan Farooqui of The Canadian Press.