The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) is launching a campaign on Friday in a bid to put pressure on the provincial government to do more to help ensure schools stay safe and open.
The website for the campaign, called "Safe Schools Now," asks people to write to their MPPs and "tell them the government needs a real plan for a safe and sustainable school year."
"The Ford government’s 2021-22 back-to-school ‘plan’ is incomplete, leaving students vulnerable to more learning disruptions, just like last year. Despite having months to again plan for a safe return to schools, the Ford government is relying on the same ‘plan’ rejected by doctors and scientists that failed to keep schools safe and open to in-person learning for much of last year," the website states. "This government’s refusal to implement smaller class sizes, improve ventilation, and deliver robust testing puts students at risk, especially children under 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated yet."
The teachers' union reiterated its calls in a statement, noting that it would also like to see the government implement mandatory vaccines for schools, mandatory masks for all students, teachers and visitors (currently masks are only required for Grades 1-12 students as per provincial guidance) and more investments to address mental health concerns and learning loss.
These asks echo calls from opposition parties at Queen's Park, education advocates and health experts.
OECTA President Barb Dobrowolski said in a statement that by not putting in place additional measures, the government is "threatening in-person learning for the third year in a row."
"Catholic teachers are inviting all educators, parents, and Ontarians to join us in calling on this government to act and invest in a safe and sustainable school year," she said.
The government has repeatedly touted that it has set aside $1.6 billion for this school year to "protect schools" during the pandemic and that it is "doing everything possible to keep students in class and as safe as possible." Education Minister Stephen Lecce has previously noted that the government's plan includes funding to address learning loss, particularly on math and reading, mental health supports and ventilation upgrades including having 70,000 HEPA units in schools across the province.
OECTA's campaign website will be accompanied by digital ads.