Ontario back-to-school plan draws fear and praise from parents

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WATCH ABOVE: Coronavirus -- Parents react to Ontario’s back-to-school announcement – Jul 30, 2020

TORONTO – Ontario’s parents and teachers have begun planning for back-to-school season now that the province has released its plan for September, with some saying they’re concerned the strategy doesn’t do enough to protect kids from the threat of COVID-19.

The Ontario Parent Action Network says the Progressive Conservative government has “abandoned” students rather than helping them return to class safely, while the province’s four major teachers unions say the plan jeopardizes the safety of staff and students alike.

Read more: Ontario elementary students to return to class full-time, hybrid learning for most high schoolers

The plan, announced yesterday by Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce, will see elementary students and many high schoolers return to school full-time in September.

Parents can also choose to keep their kids out of class, and boards must provide options for remote learning.

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Kathleen Katz, whose six-year-old daughter is headed into Grade 2, says she’s particularly concerned because the government plan doesn’t reduce the size of elementary school classes.

She says standard class sizes make it impossible to maintain the physical distancing protocols health officials say are essential to protect against the novel coronavirus.

“There wasn’t enough information or protection for our kids,” she said. “I’m scared to send my daughter. I’m scared for my friends who are teachers. Not all teachers are young.”

But some parents said they were thrilled with the government announcement, including Joanna Cabral, whose two sons attend school in Peel Region.

Cabral said her kids, aged eight and 16, struggled with online learning. A return to class is welcome news for her family.

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Coronavirus: Ontario teachers’ unions react to reopening plan – Jul 30, 2020

“They need that structure back,” she said. “And honestly, I don’t think the government would send our kids back to school if they didn’t feel like they were safe.”

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Cabral’s eldest son, who will be in Grade 11, will only be in school half the time because Peel is one of two dozen boards where high schoolers will attend class part-time in cohorts of 15.

She said that’s better than nothing, as his mental health has faltered in lockdown.

But her one concern is the province’s new masking requirement, which states students in Grade 4 and up need to wear face coverings while attending class or spending time in common spaces.

“I don’t know how it’s gonna be for the kids,” she said.

The teachers’ unions, meanwhile, have called the plan underfunded and half-baked.

“Restaurants, grocery stores and gyms will have more safety restrictions in place than elementary schools given the insufficient funding allocated in this plan,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

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