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Local boards respond to provincial decision keeping students at home for rest of school year

Ontario Public School Boards' Association says remote learning hurting childrens’ mental health; local boards to consider holding small, brief, graduations
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Sault and area school boards and union leaders at the provincial level have responded to the Ontario government’s announcement Wednesday that the province’s schools will not be reopening this month, students to continue with remote learning.

Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario schools won’t reopen to in-person learning until the fall.

“We understand the importance of keeping our children, teachers and communities safe, and, as many of our teachers and students have yet to be vaccinated, we understand the Premier’s decision to continue with virtual learning for the remainder of this school year,” said Lucia Reece, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) director of education in an email sent to SooToday.

“We are encouraged to know that, in partnership with our local Public Health Units, students ages 12 to 17 will be able to book vaccination appointments in the month of June. Parents are encouraged to look for further information coming from our public health units this month on these vaccination clinics for 12 to 17 year olds,” Reece said.

“The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board acknowledges that today’s decision by the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Education must have been a very difficult one to make. We also acknowledge that today's announcement was challenging for many people to receive,” said Rose Burton Spohn, H-SCDSB director of education.

“Our board is grateful that the health and safety of our staff, students, families, and communities was given such consideration in the decision-making process, and we look forward to a healthy return for everyone in the fall.”   

Until then, Burton Spohn said “our schools remain committed to engaging with and supporting students in all grade levels, to ensure their learning needs are met until the end of the 2020-21 school year. All instructional, technological, special education, and mental health supports will remain available during this time.”  

As for Grades 8 and 12 students who were looking forward to graduating, the government has said schools will be allowed to invite graduating students in elementary schools and high schools (by home room or quadmestered class) to return to school in June for brief, outdoor, physically-distanced celebrations.

“We will be consulting with Public Health and will communicate with our families regarding graduations and year-end retrieval of personal items in the near future,” Reece said on behalf of the ADSB.

“The board will continue to work with schools and public health agencies to determine the best actions to organize graduation celebrations in a safe manner,” Huron-Superior school board director Burton Spohn said.

The Ford government’s decision announced Wednesday comes despite the Ontario Science Table stating, over the weekend, that schools could reopen on a regional basis.

Wednesday’s announcement isn’t going over well with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

“After spending more than a year refusing to adequately invest in the protections and safety measures needed to keep public schools open safely, the Ford government has announced continued closures, despite consensus from healthcare stakeholders that students return to in-person learning,” ETFO stated in a release.

Sam Hammond, ETFO president, said the province ignored repeated calls for smaller class sizes, improved classroom ventilation and enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for educators.

Concerned for the mental and emotional well being of students forced to finish off the school year away from the classroom, ETFO stated “once again, we urge the Ford government to immediately convene an advisory table of all education stakeholders to address the health and safety needs of schools, and the learning and mental health challenges faced by students as a result of the pandemic.”

Ontario elementary and secondary school students have been studying remotely since April 19. 

Cathy Abraham, Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) president, shared ETFO’s concern for the wellbeing of students.

“All experts agree that the pandemic has had impacts on the mental health and well-being of our children, and that attending school in-person is crucial to the optimal development of our students. We continue to share the perspective of many public health experts who had stated that schools should be the last to close, and the first to open,” Abraham said in an OPSBA release.

“As we approach the end of the school year, school boards are concerned about the apparent contradiction between the decision to close schools and the directive from the Premier to hold in-person graduations. Our members have already been doing all they can to ensure that we are able to recognize the many students who will be graduating this year and will continue to do their best to support our students and staff through these challenging times.”

“The government must ensure school boards are fully supported as we work to provide a safe and normal, or at least near-normal, return to school this fall for all Ontario students,” Abraham said.